With an experience of over two decades in the sustainability area, Ruchita Chhabra, Country Program Manager, The Sourcery specializes in sustainable cotton sourcing and program management. Speaking to Incubees at the Recommerce Sustainable Clothing & Textile Recycling Conference in Coimbatore she gave her insights on sustainability in the textile sector:
Incubees: Challenges faced by the textile industry to create a circular economy?
Ruchita Chhabra: The circular Economy framework is shaped by the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) principles that should be applied throughout the whole cycle of production, consumption and return of resources and the circular model requires the engagement of all the market participants, across industries.
The key challenges and barriers related to closing the loop in the textile and clothing industry and the transformation to the circular model are:
- Waste creation: The current linear model of textile and clothing production and consumption (fast fashion) leads to enormous quantities of textile waste because of overproduction and short-term consumption. Studies show, that only 20% of clothing waste is collected globally for reuse or recycling. The remaining 80% is landfilled or incinerated, which results in a great loss of energy and raw materials.
- Consumer behaviour and education: Consumers’ unawareness of the impact of fast fashion leading to overconsumption, recycling, and disposing off responsibly is also a hindrance in the adaptation of CE at scale.
- Lack of infrastructure and process: The practical and economic viability of textile and clothing recycling depends on many factors, including the availability of appropriate infrastructure, the type of textile production and its physical condition, the degree of wear, fibre composition, finish, garment construction, logos and emblems, accessories, the manner of labelling, and, last but not least, how the garment has been disposed of. There is a need for mainstreamed, up-scaled processes and know-how on local and regional levels, for effective recycling.
- Recycling technologies need more push and investment: Industry stakeholders need to join hands and drive innovative models for commercially viable recycling technologies, covering efficiency in the recovery process and logistics. More needs to be invested in building textile recycling plants at local and regional levels.
- Lack of traceability and ownership in the global supply chain also needs to be addressed, as CE is about adapting a new approach in production models by industry partners, that should be comprehensive, looking at the entire life cycle of a process, with the ultimate goal of implementing a ‘closed-loop ‘cycle.
- Policies to be put in place: Unified policy frameworks in which all stakeholders operate will also enable and streamline the recycling industry.
A transition towards a circular economy should start with waste prevention and the minimization of landfilled waste. This process has three phases that are crucial for the circular economy model: product design and development, waste collection and sorting and effective recycling. Each of them comes with barriers and difficulties, but also others ample opportunities.
Circular solutions must be looked at as a mainstream activity and not something happening in the corner in order to create a level playing field.
Incubees: Short-term and long-term effects of recycling in the textile industry?
Ruchita Chhabra: Short and Long-Term Benefits of Textile Recycling:
The typical garment has a lifespan of 5.4 years. After the period, they are discarded as old clothing. Even practical clothing gets abandoned because it’s no longer stylish or attractive. Research indicates that over one million tonnes of textiles are dumped annually, and about 3% of the weight of household waste consists of materials. Textile wastes also result from the production of yarn and fabric, garment construction, etc. They are often referred to as post-industrial wastes. Eighty per cent of discarded textiles can be reused and recycled; however, only 25 percent are now recycled. Less than five percent of all garments discarded in the trash end up being discarded.
As cities divert more and more high-volume waste streams, such as organic products, the repurposing of old clothing has been dubbed the next frontier for towns attempting to minimise solid waste.
What Is Textile Recycling?
Textile recycling involves reprocessing pre- or after-consumer textile waste into new textile or non-textile goods. Recycling facilities sift, clean, and reprocess recyclables. Increased textile recycling and reuse could reduce virgin fibre production. For example, clothing is shredded and transformed into pulp or shredded to manufacture new items.
Short-Term Recycling Benefits
Let’s first dive into the short-term goals!
Lesser Production of Toxic Gases in The Air
The environmental impact of our clothing is a factor that most people never consider. Significant volumes of chemicals, water, energy, and other natural resources are required for textile manufacture. During the decomposition process, textiles produce methane gas and leach harmful chemicals and colours into the soil and groundwater. By recycling, you won’t contribute to this problem.
Employment From Recycling
Recycling centres have robust equipment to sort materials. People are needed to operate the equipment as textiles, and other materials must be sorted by hand. You create local jobs by recycling. This can cut unemployment and provide economic benefits.
Did you know many non-profits raise funds for textile recycling programmes? For example, when schools recycle old clothing, they receive a little money. Donating clothes and household goods to charity counts as recycling. Your local goodwill store or any charitable organisation resells donations to sustain its operations. In addition, they utilise the funding for community outreach.
Long-Term Recycling Benefits
Listed here are the five most compelling arguments for recycling textile waste. In addition, consideration must be given to the impact of such wastage on the planet and people.
Textile Recycling Saves Natural Resources
Reusing clothing to manufacture new items saves wood, water, and oil. It reduces the quantity of mining and material extraction needed. Recycling promotes sustainability in the textile industry by conserving energy and materials. For instance, substantially less water is required to colour recycled fabric than to dye new fabric (EPA). In addition, recovered textiles require less energy during production. These elements contribute to the clothing industry’s transition toward a more sustainable future.
Slows Global Warming
Global warming is a widespread issue altering the world climate and general living conditions. These gases have a detrimental effect on the environment and contribute to the impending warming. Therefore, recycling clothing benefits the entire world and our quality of life today and in the future.
Cuts Landfill Waste
A trash disposal pit/landfill is where waste goods are dumped. As the global population climbs, so does land scarcity. Today, garbage landfills occupy a substantial amount of territory. Similar to other garbage, post-consumer textiles end up in these pits. These landfills are now a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. They pose a risk to public health and leave the land uninhabitable. You become a hero when you try looking up textile recycling near me! Recycling results in less waste, lesser landfills, and additional room for trees. Go, green people!
Incubees: Scope of India as a player in the international field of recycling/upcycling industry?
Ruchita Chhabra: Textile products hold a key position in the global value chain, with India being the world’s fifth-largest exporter of apparel, home, and technical textile products. This industry employs almost 45 million Indian people in the farming and manufacturing sectors.
The ongoing linear economic model is driven by the “take, make, use and dispose” of resources is increasing the gap in the demand and supply curve of natural resources and waste assimilation posing serious challenges leading to loss of biodiversity. With the world’s biggest fashion brands increasingly committing to ‘Net Zero’ targets we are witnessing an upwards momentum for sustainability in the international fashion arena. This era of environmental, social awareness, and governance in the textile industry, has to be the major focus for India.
The Indian textile and apparel sector is at a pivotal moment in its history. Despite many inherent structural weaknesses that affect its global competitiveness and challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry’s future prospects appear strong with it estimated to reach $190 bn by 2025-26 from $103.4 bn in 2020-21. Concerted policy action such as the European Union’s Circular Economy Action Plan, which paves the way for the transition to a circular economy, the recently introduced New York Fashion Bill for supply chain mapping, and other positive international developments will significantly affect the Indian textile sector given its crucial role in the global textile and apparel value chains.
COVID-19 has triggered the redistribution of global trade shares and a recalibration of sourcing patterns, providing a golden opportunity for Indian textiles to stage a turnaround and regain a leadership position as a top exporting economy. India should aim to project the country’s textiles industry as a one-stop destination for products that are manufactured in a sustainable manner in transparent value chains with best-in-class quality at competitive costs and lead times. This will truly differentiate India for global consumers.
The circular economy can be a game changer for Indian suppliers and manufacturers. However, global discussions on the circular economy have to be clearly contextualized for India. India is both a major producer and consumer of textiles and apparel and any circular economy intervention has to be aligned to the requirements of the value chain actors in India.
We see several promising initiatives and other actions adopting circular economy approaches in the Indian textile and apparel industry by innovators, pioneering companies across the value chain, as well as by industry-led platforms. Many Indian textile manufacturing companies have finalized their sustainability goals and track essential parameters such as energy, emissions, water use, and waste. However, for a meaningful impact, it is important to educate small and unorganized players (who form the backbone of India’s textile industry) about the environmental impact and encourage them to adopt sustainable practices. Despite these encouraging developments in some market segments, we find that the pace of industry-wide transformation is still slow, especially with SMEs. Indian suppliers and manufacturers stand to make considerable gains if they proactively adopt good practices and innovate through circular business models and practices and get ready to be part of the transformation that is happening globally. Reshaping the global position of India’s textiles industry will substantially boost the country’s economy, and the journey will require collective efforts from all.
India should strive to become the recycling hub for Asia as it will also make India a dominant player in sustainable raw materials and eventually, a sustainable manufacturing powerhouse, according to the CII-Kearney report.
Incubees: Role of technology in the development of Recycling/upcycling in the textile industry?
Ruchita Chhabra: Today, fashion and textile companies are searching for new circular solutions to reduce their environmental impact. Over the past decade, a variety of new technological approaches to design and business models have been developed to rethink the various stages of product development and textile production with a focus on circularity, incorporating an emphasis on ecologically sustainable materials, which can easily be reused and or recycled back into the production cycle Recycling is critical for closing the loop in fashion, but limitations of common recycling technologies have so far hindered progress. Nevertheless, recent breakthroughs now provide unprecedented opportunities for change.
Closing the fashion loop through recycling
The fashion industry has come to recognise the fundamental importance of shifting from a linear to circular approach, whereby waste and pollution are designed out, materials and products are kept in use for as long as possible, and the natural systems are regenerated. Sustainable design, pollution-free dye-houses and take-back schemes are all enablers of circular fashion, yet recycling plays a particularly crucial part in truly closing this loop. Currently, less than 1% of clothing is recycled into new garments and only 20% of textiles are recycled. Clearly, the industry is far from where it needs to be, this is because of both a fragmented supply chain and limitations on readily available recycling technologies. Nevertheless, rapid development and recent technology breakthroughs now provide unprecedented opportunities for change.
Today, there are two main ways to recycle textile fibre: mechanically and chemically.
Mechanical recycling involves shredding the material to turn it into a near-fibrous form that can be re-spun. However, the shredding process shortens the fibre and weakens its strength. As such, mechanically recycled fibres often need to be mixed with virgin fibres (especially in the case of cotton and wool) and have limited circularity. These limitations can be overcome with chemical recycling, which as the name suggests, entails a chemical process resulting in transformed yarns and fabrics. Chemically recycled fibres can achieve the same quality as virgin fibres and can be recycled several times without losing quality.
Innovations and technological breakthroughs
- Mechanical recycling
With continuous technological advancement, many mills can now produce near virgin quality natural fibres textile through mechanical recycling, without needing to blend in virgin content.
- Chemical recycling for synthetics
Technologies to chemically recycle synthetics have been developed for quite some time but have only become more widely available in recent years, particularly for recycled post-consumer nylon (i.e., made from fishing nets and nylon waste).
- Chemical recycling for blended fibre
There are new companies focusing on recycling blended fibre, with their technology enabling the separating and recapturing of polyester (PET) and cotton from discarded clothing to produce virgin-equivalent, cost-competitive polyester and cellulosic raw materials for continual recycling.
- Chemical recycling for natural fibre
Until recently, chemical recycling of natural fibre has mostly been done at the lab scale as it was not yet technologically or commercially mature. However, a number of innovators have made significant advancements and launched consortium projects in the past few years, which will probably accelerate the commercialisation and broader adoption of the chemical recycling of natural fibre While there remain some barriers to recycling, such as inefficient waste collection and sorting systems, the low market price for virgin materials weakening demand for recycled materials, new recycling innovations are gaining momentum and funding gaps are being bridged to catalyse commercial scaling of these technologies. Perhaps, the moment is finally ripe for meaningful progress to close the loop in fashion.
Incubees: Innovations that are exciting in this industry and possibilities in the future?
Ruchita Chhabra: Innovation in the circular economy is necessary to increase the lifespan of the raw materials used for production. If we find ways to repair, repurpose, recycle, upcycle or re-manufacture products, giving them a new lease of life, fewer raw materials will be needed in the future.
TOP 7 SUSTAINABLE INNOVATIONS DRIVING THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY
From recycling waste products to closing gaps in efficiency, these seven curated innovations highlight the crossovers between sustainability and the circular economy. In the drive to create a more sustainable planet, the circular economy is a growing force for change. The regenerative nature of reinvesting resources and waste products back into sustainable production means that businesses can operate more efficiently and with less negative environmental impact. These curated innovations outline how sustainability and the circular economy can work together in the drive for positive change.
Innovations That Are Exciting in This Industry and Possibilities in The Future
Global population growth is accelerating, exceeding available resources under the linear economy’s typical “take-make-waste” model. The hike in population is why a transition towards a circular economy is occurring. A closed-loop economy is made possible by waste-reduction and material-recycling strategies. Thus, sustainable urban solutions transform trash into resources and increase the durability of products and materials.
Top 7 Sustainable Innovations Driving the Circular Economy
From recycling waste goods to eliminating efficiency gaps, these seven technologies illustrate the connections between ecology and the circular economy. In building an eco-friendly environment, the circular economy is a significant agent of transformation. Organisations can operate more effectively and with less environmental impact due to the regenerative aspect of reinvesting assets and waste products into sustainable production. For instance, there is enough foodstuff produced globally to end world poverty, yet so much of it is wasted. Innovations like the food box discussed below assist in mitigating this resource loss. Utilising waste items to generate textiles or even construction materials is another method. These handpicked solutions demonstrate how environmentalism and the circular economy may collaborate to promote good change.
Food Boxes for Selling Unsold Food
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, about 1/3rd of all foodstuff is wasted. This waste is food considered unsellable due to its defective form or appearance. So, Flash food has developed a new concept: unsaleable ‘ugly’ foods are packaged and distributed directly to consumers in food boxes.
Food Waste Is Transformed into Textile Fibres
Currently, just 65% of textile fibres are derived from natural sources. According to estimates, the banana sector produces 270 million tonnes of garbage annually. A firm, Circular Systems, converts biological waste fibres into useable materials.
Israeli Start-up Converts Domestic Garbage to Bioplastic
Taiwanese researchers have also fought against household waste by establishing a novel breakdown method where household wastage is being converted. As a result, the UBQ is suitable for various applications, such as replacing plastic or wood.
Soy Pulp Is Used to Create A Novel Probiotic Beverage
Singapore discards approximately 10,000 tons of okara annually as food waste because Okara spoils rapidly and has a terrible odour and flavour. Consequently, food scientists from the National University of Singapore have developed a nutritious probiotic beverage using okara, a by-product from soy milk and tofu typically discarded, through a zero-waste procedure.
Recycled Plastic Trash Is Converted into Helpful Construction Bricks
Globally, communities are constructing cheap public and private buildings that minimise pollution by utilising Ecobricks. Empty plastic bottles are transformed into Ecobricks, a sturdy and lasting building material. The bricks undergo extensive testing, and a prescribed density per bottle yields the most acceptable building results.
A Single-Axis Wind Turbine Supplies Residential Buildings with Energy
O-Wind, an omnidirectional, single-axis wind turbine designed to service apartment buildings in urban areas with erratic winds, has taken a new route regarding sustainability. The O-Wind, whose patent is pending, utilises horizontal and vertical breezes without steering. As a result, it would allow occupants of apartment buildings to generate electricity responsibly.
The Start-up Offers Businesses Recyclable Packaging
LimeLoop provides internet retailers with a novel shipping concept that employs reusable packaging.
Using repurposed vinyl from billboards, LimeLoop creates its waterproof packaging pouches. Upon receipt, buyers return the package, allowing it to be reused up to 2,000 times.
To read other parts of the Recommerce interview, visit: https://incubees.com/recommerce-building-an-entire-ecosystem-to-manage-recyclables-generated-by-industries/