Fundamental issues within the fashion industry stem from the industry’s rapid pace of production and consumption, which has resulted in a slew of environmental and societal crises. Fortunately, various stakeholders throughout the fashion value chain are increasingly aware of the issues. This is demonstrated by the growing interest in the circular economy (CE), which has been recognised as a viable concept for achieving a more sustainable production-consumption system.

Issues within the fashion industry

Textile Recycling Legislation

To begin, it’s critical to understand the current state of textile recycling legislation. As many have noted, legislation plays a significant role in determining the practice of reverse logistics and, consequently, the effectiveness of recycling systems. For example, in the European Union, there is currently no uniform legislation governing textile waste management, and national regulations vary. Nonetheless, the Council of the EU published a press release in February 2018 announcing a provisional agreement on the waste package, which would “lead to increased waste recycling and contribute to the development of a circular economy” (The Council of the EU 2018). If the agreement is approved, member states will be required to establish a separate collection for post-consumer textiles by the first of January 2025.

Textile Recycling Legislation

Material Input

In terms of materials, one of the primary challenges is the scarcity of recyclable textiles, while another is the functionality of reverse logistics. At the moment, textile collection and sorting are insufficient, despite the use of multiple collection systems. While an increasing number of fashion companies are establishing take-back programs, the challenges that arise are related to textile volume and quality. Additionally, consumer awareness of the negative consequences of clothing disposal is a concern. Because consumers are ultimately responsible for the end-of-life of products, the functionality of reverse logistics is contingent on their disposal habits.

Material Input

Market

The complexity of the fashion value chain and the interconnectedness of its various stakeholders complicate the assessment of closed-loop recycling’s functionality and economic viability. Cost is a significant factor in markets. Costs of sorting and recycling textile waste are high, transportation costs for textile waste are high, and incentives for textile recycling investment are lacking. As a result, recycled textiles are expensive, which many small brands or design teams in commercial fashion companies (often under extreme price pressure) cannot afford. Meanwhile, fashion firms believe that there is a limited supply of recycled fibers/textiles available for designing new textile products. Suppliers of recycled textile fibres, on the other hand, report a lack of demand for recycled textiles among fashion companies and textile producers. This is consistent with the statement by, who claims that recycled products are difficult to market, which is exacerbated by high prices.

 Textile collection and recycling

Information

Fashion companies appear to be lacking in knowledge regarding textile collection and recycling, as well as reverse logistics. Additionally, there is a dearth of information about the composition of products (material composition, dyes, chemicals, and other substances). Access to information about a product’s complete chemical composition is said to be difficult for fashion companies “due to lengthy and complex supply chains, inconsistencies in national and regional legislation, and the chemical industry’s extremely low transparency.” Further up the textile value chain, it appears as though there is a lack of communication between sorters and recyclers. Sorters must know which textiles to separate in order to meet the needs and requirements of recyclers, while recyclers require information about the chemicals contained in recyclable textiles in order to regenerate high-quality fibres.

Scaling up chemical fiber-to-fiber recycling technologies

Technology

Aspects of technology that are critical are those that pertain to the readiness of various processes. Automated textile sorting technologies are being developed to increase the volume and purity of textile waste sorted for recycling, but none are operational at the industrial scale at the moment. Additionally, scaling up chemical fiber-to-fiber recycling technologies is challenging due to a dearth of recycling investment. While the separation of cotton and polyester fibres has been demonstrated recently, the separation of different fibre types and handling of impurities in chemical recycling processes continues to be a challenge.

The borw Team

References:

Dissanayake, D. and Weerasinghe, D., 2021. Towards Circular Economy in Fashion: Review of Strategies, Barriers and Enablers. Circular Economy and Sustainability.

Karell, E. (2018). Design for Circularity: The Case of circular. fashion. In K. Niinimäki (Ed.), Sustainable Fashion
in a Circular Economy (pp. 96-127). Aalto ARTS Books.

Lettmann, S., 2019. Facing Textile Industry: Why Circular Design Has to Become a BA Fashion Programme and Creativity Alone is not Enough. Journal of Textile Science & Fashion Technology, 3(5).

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