AMSTERDAM – Today, Fashion for Good concludes the Sorting
for Circularity Europe project, and in collaboration with Circle
Economy, releases a report detailing the findings of the
16-month analysis. The analysis indicates that 74%, a total of
494,000 tonnes, of low-value, post-consumer textiles is readily
available for fibre-to-fibre recycling in six European countries.
This represents the potential to generate an additional €74
million per year in value by reintroducing sorted and recycled
textiles back into the value chain.
“As fibre-to-fibre textile recycling commitments and policies increase, as well
as the amount of textile waste collected, the infrastructure required to drive
the move towards circular systems requires significant investment to scale.
To make informed investment decisions, as well as assess the business case
for monetisation through recycling, a deeper understanding of the
characteristics of today’s European post-consumer textiles landscape is
needed. This project lays the knowledge foundation that will enable key
players to set into motion.” – Katrin Ley, Managing Director of Fashion for
The Sorting for Circularity Europe Project was initiated to address this
knowledge gap, exploring post-consumer textiles in depth, providing
meaningful information on which to base investment decisions, policy
developments and next steps towards circularity. Furthermore, the project
aims to increase harmonisation between the sorting and recycling industry,
stimulating a recycling market for unwanted textiles that can generate new
revenue streams for sorters and unlock demand for recyclers and brands.
The full report of the project can be read here.
Conducting the analyses across Europe, in Belgium, Germany, the
Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom, the project provides the
most comprehensive and representative snapshot of textile waste
composition in Europe to date. The results point to promising opportunities
for recapturing value while diverting textiles from downcycling and
incineration. The results also inform brands of the best circular design
practises to adopt, as well as textile collection agencies and organisations to
build the necessary infrastructure and better educate and engage consumers
on proper sorting and disposal practices.
LEAPING FORWARD THROUGH TECHNOLOGY
Using innovative Near Infrared (NIR) technology to determine garment
composition, traditionally a task performed manually, the project analysed a
total of 21 tonnes of post-consumer garments. On-the-ground examinations
were performed over two time periods, autumn/winter 2021 and
spring/summer 2022, to account for seasonal changes in the types of
garments entering sorting facilities.
Cotton was found to be the dominant fibre (42%), followed by a large
presence of material blends (32%), almost half of which consisted of
polycottons (12%). Based on three characteristics, material composition,
presence of disruptors, such as zippers and buttons, and colour, 21% of the
materials analysed are deemed suitable as feedstock for mechanical
recycling, while 53% are suitable for chemical recycling. This presents a
significant opportunity for circularity as currently only 2% of post consumer
textiles are diverted to fibre-to-fibre recycling.
BUILDING A ROBUST SORTING AND RECYCLING INFRASTRUCTURE
In addition to the report, two further industry resources, developed by Circle
Economy, have been made available; Recycler’s Database, a database
mapping textile recycler’s capabilities, illuminating crucial gaps between the
sorting and recycling industry, and an open source Sorters Handbook to
guide the sorting industry – encouraging and supporting further analyses.
Building off the project, two open digital platforms, Reverse Resources and
Refashion Recycle, to match textile waste from sorters with recyclers, have
been identified as critical tools to further enable the connections needed to
drive greater circularity in the years to come. Following an assessment of
suitable digital platforms within and outside of the textile industry, Reverse
Resources have 39 active recyclers and 32 active waste handlers/sorters on
their platform, while Refashion Recycle have 103 recyclers and 66 sorters
onboarded onto their platform. This represents a large portion of the
European circularity industry.
PATH TOWARDS A CIRCULAR INDUSTRY
The amount of textile waste collected is likely to increase, due to growing
consumption and disposal, and incoming legislation, such as the Waste
Framework Directive. Overall, a strong business case for sorting low value
textiles is required in order to maintain and increase sorting capacity in
Europe. To support this retention and development of sorting capacity,
increased investments and policy changes play a key role.
Based on findings and knowledge gathered from the project, Fashion for
Good and Circle Economy recommend the following actions in the report:
● For all collectors, sorters, and recyclers –
○ Use the Sorters Handbook and the Sorting for Circularity
Europe Report as guidance to conduct further trials and
continue to build an understanding of fibre composition, sorting
and recycling processes.
○ Provide open-access to trials and data that can support and
direct investment into necessary infrastructure.
○ Update and utilise the Recyclers Database to build knowledge
about mechanical and chemical recycling destinations.
○ Funnel further investments into new sorting technologies
needed to scale the amount of textiles deemed suitable as
feedstock for mechanical and chemical recycling.
○ Join digital platforms such as Reverse Resources and
Refashion Recycle to unlock and connect supply with demand.
● For brands and manufacturers –
○ Further commit to adopting circular design practices and
incorporating recycled fibres into product portfolios as
mandated by the upcoming Ecodesign for Sustainable
Products Regulation in the European Union.
● For policy makers – consider the Sorting for Circularity Europe Report
and other relevant studies when developing toolkits, frameworks and
legislation such as: the harmonised Extended Producer Responsibility
framework, the Digital Product Passports pathway in textiles, and the
Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation.
● For consumers – take into account that purchase and disposal choices
have an influence on the end of use of textiles. Consider extending the
life of products through repairing, reselling and swapping.
CONSORTIUMS POWER TRANSFORMATION
Launched in early 2021 and initiated by Fashion for Good together with
Circle Economy, the Sorting for Circularity Europe project brought together
key brands and industry leaders across Europe.
The project brings together the largest industrial textile sorters in the
European region; including the Boer Group, I:CO – part of SOEX Group, JMP
Wilcox – part of Textile Recycling International, Modare-Cáritas, Wtórpol and
TEXAID, placing key industry players firmly at the heart of the project.
Sorting for Circularity Europe is made possible thanks to catalytic funding
from Laudes Foundation and is facilitated by Fashion for Good brand
partners, adidas, BESTSELLER, Inditex and Zalando, with H&M Group as key
project partners. Fashion for Good partners Arvind Limited, Birla Cellulose,
Levi Strauss & Co., Otto Group and PVH Corp. participated as part of the
wider working group.
Circle Economy, with support from TERRA, led the creation and
implementation of the methodology. Refashion facilitated the introduction to
TERRA and created the Refashion textile materials library, for the
implementation of the methodology. Matoha provided the NIR technology
used to assess textile waste composition.
SORTING FOR CIRCULARITY
Sorting for Circularity aims to (re)capture textile waste, expedite the
implementation of game changing technologies and drive circularity within
the fashion value chain. The framework is based on insights from the
Fashion for Good and Aii collaborative report “Unlocking the Trillion Dollar
Fashion Decarbonisation Opportunity”, which charts a trajectory for the
industry to meet its net-zero ambition by 2050, highlighting the potential and
significant impact on carbon emissions in the industry through material
efficiency, extended and re- use of waste. Created with scalability in mind, the
project was first initiated in Europe, and has now expanded to include Sorting
for Circularity India.
ABOUT CIRCLE ECONOMY
Circle Economy is a global impact organisation with an international team of passionate
experts based in Amsterdam, empowering businesses, cities and nations with practical and
scalable solutions to put the circular economy into action.
Their vision is an economic system that ensures the planet and all people can thrive.
Since 2014, their Circle Textiles Programme works to enable the data, technology and
infrastructure needed to valorise textile waste at end-of-use and increase apparel brands’
capacity to adopt circular strategies and business models. Their mission is to connect a
circular supply chain of producers (manufacturers, retailers and brands) and solution
providers (collectors, sorters, recyclers, manufacturers, logistics etc.).
Circle Economy has deep expertise in the areas of textile-to-textile recycling, circular
business models, design for cyclability, technology assessments and circular infrastructure