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Recycling fibres and textiles could revolutionise sustainable fashion

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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Fashion’s next generation of sustainable fibres are pushing toward a circular and greener future for one of the world’s most polluting industries.

Studies show the fashion industry is responsible for approximately 10 percent of global emissions, a reckoning that has fuelled start-ups to innovate a long overdue sector. From new biodegradable fabrics to eliminating polyester and circular textile recycling, more companies and brands than ever before are committed to change.

Eliminating polyester

In 2017 The Textile Exchange, a global non-profit organisation, challenged some of the world’s biggest retailers and brands (and also polluters) to reduce their reliance on polyester. Companies including Adidas, The Gap and H&M sought to reduce using virgin polyester in their collections by 20 percent by 2020. The target was reached just one year later, laying the foundation for more brands to find polyester alternatives.

Garments made from plastic bottles

Recycled polyester mostly originates from recycled plastic bottles. In the US alone, 35 billion bottles are discarded every year. Plastic takes up to 1,000 years to degrade in a landfill. One innovator to turn plastic into fibres is ECOsense, who’s fabric is made from 100 percent post-consumer plastic bottles. The company says its solution dye process requires none of the water or harsh chemicals often found in package dyeing with the end result offering a natural, soft hand and the durability, drapability and colourfastness of virgin polyester.

The downside to recyclable plastic bottles is that doesn’t stop the use of plastic for the food and beverage industry.

Circular textile recycling

Images of discarded clothing and mountains of garment waste have triggered the need for companies to repurpose clothing instead of sending unsold garments to landfill. The circular economy has inspired a myriad of startups for second hand sales, but textile-to-textile recycling needs to embrace suppliers, brands and producers to work together and solve the surplus of waste.

Tools for the industry

Knowledge should be shared. A greener future is only possible if the fashion industry collectively works together and commits to change. Last year The Textile Exchange in partnership with Gap Inc. launched the Preferred Fiber Toolkit (PFT), a resource to be used by sourcing and design teams to inform companies on meeting their sustainability goals.  

Toolkits such as these should be an industry-wide resource and publicly available, providing companies with consolidated, validated guidance and information. This particular toolkit includes a rigorous evaluation of raw material choices building upon quantitative data inputs from the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s (SAC) Higg Materials Sustainability Index. It also incorporates other holistic indicators to consider environmental considerations, such as biodiversity and land-use change, and waste-elimination guidance for contributing to the circular economy. Human rights, labor concerns, and animal welfare within raw material sourcing are also considered, to layer in additional nuance beyond environmental data. Enough data to help brands and retailers make better sourcing decisions.

Image via Textile Santanderino

Circular Economy