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It’s Not Just a Waste Problem, Study Warns
In order to increase fiber-to-fiber recycling of textiles (aka recycling clothing), a holistic approach must be taken, reports a new study from Mistra, the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research. The whole textile value chain must be included, the study concluded. This means that it is not only the responsibility of the materials used but also the recycling technologies available.
The study states that the most important aspects for increased fiber-to-fiber recycling of textiles are the textile waste entering the recycling process, the recycling process itself and the recycled textile fibers leaving the recycling process. Individuals from fashion companies, textile sorters and recyclers were interviewed to share their views on the critical aspects for fiber-to-fiber recycling. In total, the 12 interviewees identified 43 critical aspects, which were divided into four main categories: material input, markets, technology and information.
The following figure demonstrates the critical aspects for fiber-to-fiber recycling that concerned the stakeholders. There were a total of 15 concerns in the input materials, 15 in markets, 10 in technology and three in information.
The highest ranked concerns within the materials category were a lack of incentives for investments in textile recycling, lack of recycling technology for mixed fibers and presence of plastic prints on textile products.
The following were rated as having medium to high impact within the markets category: a lack of incentives for investments in textile recycling, low market prices for recycled textile fabrics, and import regulations for waste.
Regarding technology, concerns included a lack of recycling technology for mixed fibers and lack of chemical textile recycling technology.
Finally, all aspects within the information category were rated as having medium to large impact. Those aspects were lack of information regarding chemicals, hazardous substances in textile products, insufficient labeling of textile products and unclear ownership of used textiles/textiles waste.
Each group pointed to other groups when identifying the main obstacles. This highlights the importance of the textile value chain. In other words, each group depends on the other in order to increase fiber-to-fiber recycling.
“Increased fiber-to-fiber textile recycling must not be reduced to a waste problem,” the study concludes. “The challenge of increasing fiber-to-fiber of textiles cannot be met by a single stakeholder group or on a single place in the textile value chain. On the contrary, a holistic perspective must be used in terms of textile products entering and textile wastes circulating in the value chain. The whole value chain must be included when introducing policy measures.”