Fashion for Good, a global initiative meant to inspire change through fashion, in collaboration with Circle Economy, a global impact organisation, has released the Sorting for Circularity Europe project.

The analysis, achieved after 16 months of analysis, indicates, that 74%, a total of 494,000 tonnes, of low-value, post-consumer textiles is readily available for fiber-to-fiber recycling in six European countries. This amount of leftover textiles represents the potential to generate an additional €74 million per year in value by reintroducing sorted and recycled textiles back into the value chain. 

The Sorting for Circularity Europe Project was initiated to explore post-consumer textiles in depth, providing information on which to base investment decisions, policy developments and new steps towards circularity. The project also aims to increase relationships between the sorting and recycling industry, stimulating a recycling market for unwanted textiles that can generate new revenue streams for sorters. 

Conducting the analyses across Europe, in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom, the project provides a representative snapshot of textile waste composition in Europe to date. The results point out promising opportunities for recapturing value while diverting textiles from down cycling 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. 

The project analysed a total of 21 tonnes of post-consumer garments by using innovative Near Infrared (NIR) technology to determine garment composition, traditionally a task performed manually. The examinations were performed over two time periods, f/w 2021 and s/s 2022, to account for seasonal changes in the types of garments entering sorting facilities. 

Cotton was found to be the dominant fiber (42%), followed by a large presence of material blends (32%), almost half of which consisted of poly cottons (12%). Based on three characteristics, material composition, presence of disruptors, such as zippers and buttons, and color, 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 fiber-to-fiber recycling. 

In addition to the report, the project has developed the Recycler’s Database, a database mapping textile recycler's capabilities, showing crucial gaps between the sorting and recycling industry, and an open source Sorters Handbook to guide the sorting industry, encouraging and supporting further analyses. 

The Sorting for Circularity Europe project was launched in early 2021 and brings together some of 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.

This initiative was made possible thanks to funding from Laudes Foundation and facilitated by Fashion for Good brand partners, including, Adidas, Bestseller, Inditex, Zalando and H&M Group as key project partners. Fashion for Good partners Arvind Limited, Birla Cellulose, Levi Strauss & Co., Otto Group and PVH Corp. also participated as part of the wider working group.

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