How do fabrics get recycled?

Every year, around 80 to 100 billion pieces of clothing are produced. The US itself has contributed to 15 million tons of textile waste annually - that is the equivalent of about 47 clothing pieces per person - and the UK sends about 235 million garments to landfills. The numbers are overwhelming, considering that many textile fibers can be recycled with the appropriate process.

Textile recycling defined

Textile recycling is the process of recovering fibers, yarns or fabrics and reprocessing the textile materials into new products. After the textile waste is gathered, it is sorted and processed according to each fiber’s condition, composition and resale value. 

There are two primary sources where textiles are collected for recycling:

  • Pre-consumer sources: This includes textile waste produced at the industrial production stage. These sources are usually by-products from yarn and fiber manufacture and are repurposed by the automotive, furniture and other industries.

  • Post-consumer sources: These are discarded garments or household items from manufactured textiles that are usually damaged. Some of these garments are redirected to second-hand retailers in order to be sold again, after being collected from municipal clothing bins. However, the sad truth is that the majority eventually ends up in landfills and incinerators.

Why is it important to recycle textiles?

Every year, 87% of garments end up in landfills and incinerators with only 13% being recycled and eventually reused and currently, only 1% of collected clothing is recycled into new fibers. That means that disposed textiles that end up in landfills, take  more than 200 years to decompose.

What happens then? The most common organic fibers that garments are made of are cotton, wool and silk, which are biodegradable. The majority of garments, though, are blends and contain polyester.  Biodegradation is an environmentally friendly process due to its natural decomposition. However, when dumped into landfill, textiles go through a process called anaerobic digestion, where the constant compression of textile waste layers glean the air out of the waste making the atmosphere ideal for anaerobic bacteria. The “trapped” clothes then start emitting methane - a greenhouse gas which is considered more toxic than CO2 and absorbs 20 times more heat in the atmosphere. Even when you donate garments, 10 to 15% will reach second hand markets but a 5% of them will still end up in landfills polluting the environment.

The benefits of textile recycling

From an environmental aspect, textile recycling decreases the demand for chemical dyes, considering that about 10,000 chemical dyes are used during textile production. Just imagine the environmental damage this causes. Another essential benefit is the preservation of virgin fibers used for the massive production of garments. Natural sources are already depleted so the textile and fashion industry should start contributing to a circular economy instead of a linear one. Recycling textiles also reduces the consumption of water and energy, considering that a single pair of jeans needs almost 30,000 litres of water for its production. 

From a socio-economic aspect, textile recycling ‘saves money and space’: Landfills are generally very expensive to purchase and require abundance of open space. They cost millions to operate and guess where the money comes from? The citizen’s pocket, as it is included in the taxes of each municipality and city.

Who makes a good effort?

In 2013, fashion brand “The North Face” introduced the so-called “Clothes the Loop”, where customers can recycle post-consumer items from any brand at any North Face retail location across the US. The famous denim brand Levi’s also launched the “Cotton’s Blue Jeans Go Green” program in 2014, where consumers can bring in their denim from any brand to a Levi’s US and Canada store, and in exchange receive a 20% discount on any of Levi's items. The donated fabric will be recycled and used as material for building insulation for hospitals and schools. Patagonia has also done a lot of initiatives in textile recycling. Currently, the brand uses pre and post-consumer waste recycled fibers in 72% of its product line and avoids the exploitation of virgin fibers.

How does Kleiderly contribute

Recycling, upcycling and circular economy thinking will be the solution for the industry and our planet, and this is simply what Kleiderly does. At Kleiderly, we fight the environmental impact of fast fashion by converting the fashion and textile waste into very sustainable and circular material.



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