Financed by Formas, the research project Sustainable clothing futures is led by the Swedish Environmental Research Institute (IVL) together with the partners Lund University, University of Borås, and Profu.
— It covers several aspects of sustainability in the clothing industry, says Maja Dahlbom, who works with sustainable consumption and textiles at IVL. We’ve researched techniques for sorting and recycling, consumer behaviour linked to new business models, and political measures for a more sustainable clothing industry and consumption. The clothing industry is facing major sustainability challenges today, both in terms of environmental and social sustainability. We also consume way too much clothes and use them too few times before they are thrown away.
You’ve mapped more than 40 of the European facilities for sorting and recycling of post-consumer textiles. What have you come up with?
— In the first years of the project, in 2022, we at IVL mapped sorting and recycling companies and their capacities in Europe. We estimated that the capacities for sorting and recycling of post-consumer textiles in Europe will be 560,000 tons and 1.3 million tons per year, respectively. Worth noting, however, is that we haven’t mapped all sorting companies and therefore that capacity may be larger in reality, says Dahlbom. She continues:
— On a positive note, there are large capacities for both sorting and recycling post-consumer textiles in Europe. But when the separate sorting of textiles will be implemented in 2025, there will most likely be a need for larger capacities for both sorting and recycling. Recycling companies have specific prerequisites for their inbound material, and with many recycling companies competing for the same material — where cotton, for example, is a highly demanded fibre type — there is a need for more sorting of these materials. Additionally, a common challenge for recycling companies is to separate different fibre types, which today is common in clothes.
What is the most concrete call to action demanded to reach the mentioned potential?
— We have not yet looked at political measures in relation to sorting and recycling of post-consumer textiles. But the upcoming directive for separate collection of textiles in all EU member states will most likely increase the need for a high-quality sorting of the textiles, as well as handling of the sorted textiles.
What surprised you the most, with the results?
— We are happy to see so many companies working with post-consumer textiles as the collection of these textiles will increase in a couple of years. Another finding is that as little as 1% of the collected textiles become new textiles again after sorting and recycling. And, although it is positive to recycle textiles, it is important to remember that is it better for the environment to reuse and repair the clothes you already have.
And now, what? Will you proceed with this?
— Moving on from the mapping of sorting and recycling companies, we at IVL will proceed with an LCA of selected case studies, where the results will be available later this year, Dahlbom explains.
— It’s estimated that the capacities for sorting and recycling of post-consumer textiles in Europe will be 560,000 tons and 1.3 million tons per year.
— 1% of the collected textiles become new textiles again after sorting and recycling.
— The upcoming directive for separate collection of textiles in all EU member states will most likely increase the need for a high-quality sorting of the textiles.
The full report is available here