According to a recent survey carried ahead by McKinsey, in the US State of California, the apparel industry could start building a closed-loop recycling system in order to reduce waste and reliance on limited natural resources. If this happened effectively, that State could potentially achieve a total holistic impact in terms of economic, environmental and social benefits from US$7 billion to US$9 billion a year.
These results are based on the company’s estimate of a total holistic impact of approximately US$3.5 billion to US$4.5 billion from closed-loop recycling of polyester, which represents nearly 50% of apparel textile fibers thrown away by Californians. That would translate itself into a holistic impact of US$2.70 for every US$1.00 spent. Scaling such an amount up across the United States, closed-loop apparel recycling could achieve a total holistic impact of US$50 billion to US$70 billion.
Opposite to what is happening today, such waste requires transformative change and the key lies in circularity by, specifically, building a closed-loop for recycling materials. To date, California has seen relatively little investment and research into the benefits of closed-loop recycling of apparel, so progress on building collection, sorting, and recycling capacity to execute this process has remained limited.
By conducting a survey among Californian consumers, they also found out that they would be in favor of closed-loop recycling practices. In fact, among surveyed consumers, 54% anticipate buying more clothes made with recycled materials. Younger Californians aged 18–24 reported a willingness to pay a premium of almost 15% for clothes made with recycled materials. Of surveyed consumers, 92% would participate in a brand-sponsored apparel-recycling program if offered the opportunity.
Future efforts could build on specific initiatives to address other textile materials focused, for instance, on purchasing recycled polyester to replace virgin polyester in apparel. They could also promote and sell recycled apparel to shoppers, touting clothing “made with recycled polyester.”
They could partner with apparel manufacturers to collect pre-consumer polyester waste, such as scraps and rejected apparel, and eventually partner with retail stores to collect pre-consumer polyester waste, such as unsold garments that are typically thrown away if not diverted for low-cost resale.
Furthermore, they could also build highly automated facilities to sort and deconstruct polyester textiles or build a chemical recycling facility to process polyester textiles.
Unlocking the total holistic impact will require actions to level the playing field, such as forging public–private partnerships, enacting recycling-friendly policies, and encouraging vertical integration in the apparel industry. Such actions might truly help to reduce waste and reliance on limited natural resources, and bring economic benefits that also other geographical areas of the world could be inspired by and learn from.
Obviously, recycling polyester implies the recycling of oil-derived materials that are not environmentally friendly for themselves. Though, trying to find alternative uses of such fibers is already an attempt in trying to avoid they end up as landfill and further damage the environment.