A new study finds that the environmental impact of reusing textiles is 70 times lower than that of new clothing, even accounting for transportation and export emissions.
A new life cycle assessment commissioned by the European textile reuse and recycling industry confirms a significant proportion of carbon dioxide (CO2) and water savings from textile reuse compared to new clothing production.
The study found that the environmental impact of textile reuse is 70 times lower, even when global exports of reuse are accounted for, including transportation emissions.
The study revealed that a whopping 3 kilograms of CO2 is saved for each high/medium quality garment that is reused, while only 0.01% of the water used to produce new garments is required for reuse.
The findings follow the EU’s launch of its Sustainable Textiles Strategy just a few months ago and requirements for member states to start collecting textiles separately by 2025.
Reuse is the greenest option for the planet
The study confirms, that the assumptions of the waste hierarchy about the environmental benefits of reuse over recycling are valid in the case of high/medium quality garments, but for low quality garments, which are usually composed entirely of polyester, recycling also has environmental benefits compared to when consumers are Less likely to buy second-hand clothes.
Burning valuable textiles
Mariska Boyer, Head of EuRIC Textiles, states that around 62% of used clothing and textiles end up in household waste, which means that valuable textiles are likely to be burned or buried.
She added that the European textile reuse and recycling industry envisions a circular value chain for textiles, where every piece of clothing is optimally reused and/or recycled.
This study endorses the environmental benefits of the global textile reuse market and its recyclability to address the increasing amounts of low-quality and non-reusable garments.
The study stressed recommendations for policy makers, calling for initiatives to accelerate investment 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 keeping textile fibers in the loop, as non-reusable garment volumes are set to increase exponentially.
In addition, the study highlighted the importance of environmental design standards that enhance the life 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 demonstrates the significant environmental benefits of textile reuse, and highlights the importance of investing in sustainable textile solutions to address the growing volumes of non-reusable clothing.
Textile waste remains a major problem in Europe
According to a McKinsey report published last July, fiber can be recycled into fiber on a large scale by 2030, and offers the potential to create a sustainable circular industry in Europe.
The same report stated that each person in Europe generates more than 15 kilograms of textile waste annually, with discarded clothing and home textiles from consumers being the main source, making up about 85 percent of the total waste.
The amount of textile waste available for recycling is hampered from fiber to fiber by collection, sorting and pre-treatment, reducing collection and collection rates by approximately 30 to 35%. On average, a significant portion of unsorted waste is exported outside of Europe.
Chemical recycling production is on the rise
Earlier this month, Swedish textile recycler Renewcell began commercial production of its meltblown pulp product, Circulose, at its new factory in Sweden.
Renewcell shipped the first batch of Circulose to a customer, but details of the shipment, including the quantity and the customer’s identity, were kept confidential.
The company did not disclose its current production capacity, but it aims to produce 60,000 tons of circulose annually, with plans to double that amount to 120,000 tons through additional financing.