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Industry Talk

Growth strategies for the US textile recycling industry

Demand for infrastructure related to post-consumer textile collection, sorting and recycling.

27th May 2024

Innovation in Textiles
 |  USA

Clothing/​Footwear, Sustainable

A new report from Fashion for Good reveals a €1.5 billion opportunity for fibre-to-fibre recycling in the USA.

Launched in January 2023, the organisation’s Sorting for Circularity USA project aims to provide crucial insights for strategic decision-making to advance circularity in the fashion value chain.

It has brought together partners adidas, Inditex, Target and Levi Strauss with external partners H&M Group, lululemon, Eastman, Nordstrom, and the New York State Center for Sustainable Materials Management

Key project implementation partners include the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles (SMART) Association, Goodwill Industries International, Helpsy, Goodwill of Colorado, Goodwill of the Finger Lakes, Goodwill of the San Francisco Bay, Goodwill Suncoast,and United Southern Waste.

The Sorting for Circularity framework forms the basis for the project, utilising Matoha’s near infrared (NIR) technology to assess textile waste composition and identify the potential for fibre-to-fibre recycling.

Global leader

The USA is a global leader in textile consumption and waste generation, positioning itself as one of the largest sources of secondary raw materials for post-consumer textile feedstock. Despite this, only 15% of the textile waste generated in the USA is currently recovered, with 85% ending up in landfills or incinerators.

With the impending policies in the European Union and certain US states, alongside commitments from both public and private sectors to promote fibre-to-fibre recycling, there is a growing demand for infrastructure related to post-consumer textile collection, sorting and recycling.

In the pursuit of establishing a functional reverse supply chain and the necessary infrastructure, two critical areas lack data  – consumer disposal behaviour and the material characteristics of post-consumer textiles.

The Sorting for Circularity USA project addressed these gaps through a comprehensive national consumer survey and waste composition analysis.

The survey revealed that 60% of respondents divert textiles, while 40% discard them, driven primarily by factors such as condition and fit. The waste composition analysis meanwhile revealed that over 56% of post-consumer textiles are suitable for fibre-to-fibre recycling, with cotton and polyester being the most prevalent fibre types, indicating a substantial potential for these textiles to be used as feedstock for mechanical and chemical recycling processes.

​​The project report outlines growth strategies for the US textile recycling industry, emphasising enhanced financial value through efficiency improvements, increased commodity valuation and policy mechanisms like extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes. Collaboration among stakeholders is crucial, including brands, government, retailers, consumers, collectors, sorters, recyclers and financial institutions, to promote circularity, invest in research and development and advocate for supportive policies and incentives to drive technological innovation.

The report can be read in full here.

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