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EU study finds environmental benefits of reusing textiles

According to European Environment Agency clothes use in Europe has on average the fourth highest impact on the environment and climate.

For each person in the EU, cloth consumption requires nine cubic meters of water, 400 square meters of land, 391kg of raw materials, and causes a carbon footprint of about 270kg.

That’s why EU politicians and government together change the law to require fashion retailers to comply with environmental standards.

EU reused fashion
Figure: The textile reuse and recycling industry is now suggesting that secondhand clothing has a 70 times lower environmental impact.

They are making public opinions in different ways. Like- how to fight climate change? Re-wear your clothes – if we all used them for twice as long as now, emissions from clothing would fall 44 percent even when accounting for global exports for reuse, including transport emissions.

The textile reuse and recycling industry is now suggesting that secondhand clothing has a 70 times lower environmental impact and calls for initiatives to accelerate investments in global textile recycling facilities. A new life-cycle assessment (LCA) commissioned by the European textile reuse and recycling industry has been initiated for that purpose. The study is showing that a grand level like 3 kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) is saved when a high or medium-quality cloth is reused.

The consumption of the water used to produce new clothing is required for reuse only a mere 0.01 per cent, the study further stated.

Further a McKinsey report published on last July is showing that, fiber-to-fiber recycling at scale could be achieved by 2030 and offers the potential for creating a sustainable circular industry in Europe.

By showing each person’s textile waste annually in Europe can generate over 15 kilograms of, 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.

These findings helped the EU to launch a Strategy for Sustainable Textiles just a few months ago and requirements for Member States to start collecting textiles separately by 2025.

But the consumers don’t like to purchase second-hand clothing while the study confirms waste hierarchy assumptions on the environmental benefits of reuse over recycling. In that case, low-quality clothing, typically entirely composed of polyester, recycling can be better solution for environment.

European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (EuRIC) published a press release and noted by Mariska Boer, President of EuRIC Textiles, “Regrettably, around 62% of used clothing and textiles end up in household waste, meaning valuable textiles are likely to be incinerated or land filled. The European textile reuse and recycling industry envisage 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 potential to tackle the rising amounts of low-quality and non-reusable clothing,” she added.

The study also put ahead some recommendations to policymakers, calling for initiatives that accelerate investments in state-of-the-art textile recycling facilities globally. In particular, innovation in fibre-to-fibre recycling will be magnetic to keep textile fibres in the loop, as volumes of non-reusable clothing are set to increase dramatically. Here the importance of eco-design criteria is also important that may enhance the lifespan of clothing. Rules that mandate detailed sorting of high/medium-quality and low-quality textiles are also important.

To keep pace with the strategy- a Swedish textile recycling company Renewcell started commercial production of its dissolving pulp product, Circulose, at its new factory in Sundsvall, Sweden. Great news comes when Renewcell shipped a customer the first batch of Circulose. The company hid its production capacity, but it aimed to produce 60,000 tonnes of Circulose annually, with plans to double this amount to 120,000 tonnes through additional funding.

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