Sorters are facing a growing mountain of non-rewearable textiles which cannot be sold in the second-hand market. As a result, the business case for local sorting is under pressure. Automated sorting technologies present an opportunity for this growing volume of textiles to find a high-value textile-to-textile recycling solution when sorted by material type, colour, and potentially structure.
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?
Assess availability of collected post-consumer textiles in your local context.
Partner with recyclers to test the sorted textiles and assess potential applications.
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?
Communicate sorting challenges to recyclers, brands and manufacturers to encourage design for recyclability.
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?
Communicate challenges and (im)possibilities of current end-of-use infrastructure to governments pursuing circularity ambitions.
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?
Sort non-rewearable textiles by material composition, and, if relevant, by colour.
Assess investment in automated sorting technologies for post-consumer 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?
Collaborate with value chain partners to test non-rewearable textiles to ensure safety in accordance with regulations on chemical content (e.g. REACH).
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 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?
Collaborate with value chain partners to understand the market value and potential of collected textiles.
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