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A new study found that the environmental impact of reusing textiles is 70 times lower than new clothing, even when taking into account transport and export emissions.
A new life-cycle assessment (LCA) commissioned by the European textile reuse and recycling industry (EURIC) has confirmed the significant carbon dioxide (CO2) and water savings of reusing textiles compared to producing new clothing. The study found that the environmental impact of reusing textiles is 70 times lower, even when accounting for global exports for reuse, including transport emissions.
The study revealed that a massive 3 kilograms of CO2 is saved for each high/medium-quality clothing item that is reused, while only 0.01% of the water used to produce new clothing is required for reuse. These results come on the heels of the European Union (EU) launching its Strategy for Sustainable Textiles just a few months ago and requirements for Member States to start collecting textiles separately by 2025.
Reuse is the friendliest option for the planet
The study confirms that waste hierarchy assumptions on the environmental benefits of reuse over recycling are correct in the case of high/medium-quality clothing, but for low-quality clothing, typically composed entirely of polyester, recycling also has comparative environmental benefits when consumers are less likely to purchase second-hand clothing.
Mariska Boer, President of EuRIC Textiles, stated that around 62% of used clothing and textiles end up in household waste, meaning valuable textiles are likely to be incinerated or landfilled. She added that the European textile reuse and recycling industry envisions a circular textile value chain where every piece of clothing is reused in an optimal way and/or recycled.
This study endorses the environmental benefits of a global market for textile reuse and recycling’s potential to tackle the rising amounts of low-quality and non-reusable clothing.
The study emphasized recommendations to policymakers, calling for initiatives that accelerate investments in state-of-the-art textile recycling facilities globally. In particular, the study noted that innovation in fiber-to-fiber recycling will be key to keep textile fibers in the loop as volumes of non-reusable clothing are set to dramatically increase. In addition, the study highlighted the importance of eco-design criteria that enhance the lifespan of clothing before there is a need for recycling, as well as rules that mandate detailed sorting of high/medium-quality and low-quality textiles.
From a consumer perspective, the study illustrates the significant environmental benefits of textile reuse, and highlights the importance of investing in sustainable textile solutions to tackle the growing amounts of non-reusable clothing.
Textile waste still a major issue in Europe
According to a McKinsey report published last July, fiber-to-fiber recycling at scale could be achieved by 2030 and offers the potential for creating a sustainable circular industry in Europe.
The same report stated that each person in Europe generates over 15 kilograms of textile waste annually, with discarded clothing and home textiles from consumers being the main source, constituting about 85% of the total waste.
The amount of textile waste made available to fiber-to-fiber recycling is hampered by collection, sorting, and preprocessing limit and collection rates are approximately 30 to 35 percent on average. A big share of the non-sorted waste gets exported outside Europe.
Chemical recycling production on the rise
Earlier this month, Swedish textile recycling company Renewcell started commercial production of its dissolving pulp product, Circulose, at its new factory in Sundsvall, Sweden. Renewcell has shipped the first batch of Circulose to a customer, but the details of the shipment, including the quantity and the customer’s identity, have been kept confidential. The company did not disclose its current production capacity, but it aims to produce 60,000 tonnes of Circulose annually, with plans to double this amount to 120,000 tonnes through additional funding.