Only a small portion of used post-consumer textiles is currently collected separately. Nevertheless, textile collectors are struggling to secure a business case to increase collection rates due to a growing amount of non-rewearable textiles in the context of a saturated second-hand market. Automated sorting technologies present an opportunity to turn this growing volume of textiles into feedstock for textile-to-textile recyclers.
Barriers and Recommendations:
The growing mountain of post-consumer textiles leads to an increase in the volume of clothing entering sorting facilities, of which a significant percentage is considered non-rewearable. These textiles have diverse potential to be reinserted into the market, but the  collecting and sorting industry first needs to be empowered by all industry actors before it can thrive.
What can you do to help?
Optimise collection methods to ensure higher quality of textiles, for instance through above-the-ground containers.
Assess together with sorters the material type and quality of the textiles collected to ensure suitability with recycling processes.
Several brands are already using recycled textiles on a small scale. However, the vast majority of them are not sourcing post-consumer textiles. On the other end of the value chain, there does not seem to be a strong pull from consumers to drive the industry to use recycled content in their products either. The interrelationship between brand offer and consumer demand may be key to the success of recycled content integration.
What can you do to help?
Partner with sorters and recyclers to pilot potential applications for collected non-rewearable textiles.
Awareness-raising efforts and goal-setting are still not enough to drive a real shift in consumption and production practices.In order to gain momentum that drives significant investment in the collection, sorting and recycling practices of postconsumer textiles, we need to create more urgency to further develop the end-of-use value chain.
What can you do to help?
Set targets and align with a regional strategy towards a circular economy for textiles.
Concerns with using post-consumer textiles mainly relate to the quality, consistency and availability of these materials. Nevertheless, several brands and manufacturers are already incorporating recycled content in their collections. Recycling technologies are also seeing a surge both in the amount of recyclers as well as the amount of materials processed.
What can you do to help?
Assess infrastructure needs to process collected post-consumer textiles, in collaboration with regional and national governments.
Facilitate non-sensitive knowledge-sharing as much as possible, to leverage the expertise in the collection field and communicate with sorters, recyclers, manufacturers and brands on the potential value of the collected textiles.
The lack of traceability of most textiles carries the risk of re-introducing textiles into the system which could pose a threat to product safety due to chemical contamination.
What can you do to help?
Build trusted relationships with partners and clients, while establishing clear agreements and expectations on the material supplied.
Ensure transparency on origin and future destination of sorted textiles.
The demand, size and pricing parameters for post-consumer textiles' end-markets still present major uncertainties. While a few technologies for certain materials are already at scale, certainty on the future of recycled textiles remains limited. This is due to the relative immaturity of most recycling technologies, as well as brands and consumers’ lack of in-depth understanding of the availability and potential of recycled fibres and fabrics made from post-consumer textiles.
What can you do to help?
Assess funding opportunities to innovate or implement existing cleaning, hardware and non-compatible label removal solutions.
To date, recycled fibre and fabrics made from post-consumer textiles are priced higher than virgin sources. This is intimately related to the higher costs required to process post-consumer textiles, as well as the low demand for them.
What can you do to help?
Explore potential automation of activities where it is relevant to minimise handling and processing costs for collected textiles.
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