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LCA reinforces need for recycling

Fibre-to-fibre recycling will be key to keeping textile fibres in the loop as volumes of non-reusable clothing are set to dramatically increase.

24th January 2023

Innovation in Textiles
 |  Brussels, Belgium

Clothing/​Footwear, Sustainable

A new life-cycle assessment (LCA) commissioned by the European textile reuse and recycling industry has confirmed the significant CO2 and water savings of reusing textiles compared to producing new clothing.

The environmental impact of reusing textiles is 70 times lower even when accounting for global exports for reuse including transport emissions.

More specifically, the study reveals that a significant 3kg of CO2 is saved for each high/medium-quality item of clothing that is reused, while only a mere 0.01% of the water used to produce new clothing is required for reuse. These results come on the back of the EU launching its Strategy for Sustainable Textiles just a few months ago and requirements for member states to start collecting textiles separately by 2025.

While the study confirms waste hierarchy assumptions on the environmental benefits of reuse over recycling, in the case of low-quality clothing, typically entirely composed of polyester, recycling also has comparative environmental benefits when consumers are less likely to purchase second-hand clothing.

“Regrettably, around 62% of used clothing and textiles end up in household waste meaning valuable textiles are likely to be incinerated or landfilled,” says Mariska Boer, president of Brussels-based EuRIC – the European Recycling Industries Confederation. “The European textile reuse and recycling industry envisages 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’s potential to tackle the rising amounts of low-quality and non-reusable clothing.”

The study also makes 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 key to keeping textile fibres in the loop as volumes of non-reusable clothing are set to dramatically increase. The study also notes the importance of eco-design criteria that enhance the lifespan of clothing before there is a need for recycling, as well as rules that mandate detailed sorting of high/medium-quality and low-quality textiles.

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