Fiber-to-fiber recycling: trims that support change
How much do we know about recycled polyester? Can recycling be the answer to fashion’s plastic problem? The solution does not start or stop at recycling, but recycling surely is part of it.
Durable, quick to dry, and affordable, it is no surprise that polyester is and has been the preferred material of brands for a long time, from footwear to clothing and accessories, accounting for more than half of the global fiber market, according to Textile Exchange. With this in mind, it is easy to see how fashion has a plastic problem. But moving away from fossil-based polyester asks for increased use of fibers made from closed-loop recycling or regenerative materials.
Closing the Loop
A first look at your care label will reveal that clothes are usually a mix of materials. “Less than 0.5% of the global fiber market comes from pre-and post-consumer recycled textiles”, according to Textile Exchange, and 99% of the recycled polyester being sourced from PET bottles. With such a low percentage of garments being recycled, the majority of textile waste ends up in landfills or incinerated. Why is that? While textile-to-textile recycling seems the best way to recycle materials like polyester, this is not an easy task. Usually blended with other materials such as cotton, and combined with plastic buttons and metal zippers also attached to the garment – the polyester fibers are hard to separate and recycle, requiring a manual process. On top of a low quality and heterogenous waste material for recycling, the production of recycled polyester from PET bottles for textile materials becomes an obstacle for the bottling industry, which is also committed to using more recycled plastic in its packaging. The textile industry should not stay in the way of that, and should strive to reuse its own waste.
Recycled polyester can be achieved through mechanical or chemical recycling, each with its advantages and disadvantages. While most mechanical recycling requires the addition of a percentage of virgin fibers as otherwise characterised by lower quality fibers, the chemical recycling requires more energy use and large-scale technological setup is still missing. This makes recycled materials more expensive than virgin fibres with high logistical support currently lacking.
In a recent report, Mckinsey mentions that by 2030, fiber-to-fiber recycling at scale could be achieved in Europe, paving the path for a circular textile industry. Several initiatives around the world are developing innovative recycling methods and fast-fashion is investing in it.
Who is responsible for making the change?
While innovative recycling is wonderful news, the cause of textile waste in the first place is not being solved. Overproduction and overconsumption are equally important topics to be addressed. Brands must make an effort and communicate and inform about the different options consumers have, investing in recycling, upcycling, reusing, re-selling, and repairing initiatives and behavior.
The responsibility no longer sits with the brand alone. Change must be demonstrated from different directions, including the brand, the consumer, the supply chain, and local, national, and international regulators that can facilitate better waste management schemes.
At Trimco Group, we want to assume part of the responsibility, creating products and solutions that can help brands drive change in this direction. As an example, we offer fiber-to-fiber recycled polyester labels and we can further support brands with repair, recycle, and renting options, supply chain traceability for better sourcing, and support with correct waste management signage.
Recycling is only one component of circular business models, and responsibility cannot sit with the brand alone.
Want to learn more about fiber-to-fiber recycled polyester or post-consumer options for your garments? Get in touch.