1. Sustainability Problem: Textile waste
The U.S. EPA estimates that textile waste occupies nearly 5% of all landfill space.
While the EPA estimates that the textile recycling industry recycles approximately 3.8 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste (PCTW) each year, this only accounts for approximately 15% of all PCTW, leaving 85% in our landfills.
The average US citizen throws away 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles annually.
Decomposing clothing releases methane, a harmful greenhouse gas and a significant contributor to global warming. There are dyes and chemicals in fabric and other components of clothing and shoes that can leach into the soil, contaminating both surface and groundwater.
2. Technology solution: Worn Again
Worn Again has been developing chemical recycling for over three years and through trials and lab experiments they are perfecting a process where solvents are used to selectively dissolve different types of textiles, recapturing them as a raw material, which can be used to make new clothes, thus being reintroduced into the supply chain as new. Within the Textile Sorting Project Worn Again is dedicated to achieving the shared goal of creating circular supply chains for textiles through collaboration and new technologies.
The tests for this new technology, which will be monitored by H&M and Puma, are built around separating and extracting polyester and cotton from blended fiber clothing. Another task will be to separate dyes and other particles from polyester and cellulose, which has always been a challenge when recycling. The raw materials that are recaptured can then be used to spin new fabric for clothes. This circular process will have an extremely positive effect on bringing down the need for virgin resources and as such reduces carbon emissions, as well as the use of toxic pesticides, chemical fertilizers or exhaustion of land for growing crops.
Worn Again isn’t the first to develop a textile-to-textile technology. In 2014, Swedish scientists developed a process to recycle cotton by shredding clothes to pulp and turning the substance into threads of viscose. The company responsible for making the pulp is now preparing its first fabric-recycling factory and teaming up with several entrepreneurs in the textile industry.
- The product developer (Worn Again)
- The subsidizing companies (H&M, Puma)
- Local governments / NGOs to foster usage of this product
- The team is currently engaged in full time development of a circular recycling technology for the textile and clothing industry, working closely with its’ development partners, H&M and Kering Group’s Sports & Lifestyle brand Puma.
- H&M and Puma have enough infrastructure to deploy the product worldwide with a strong marketing campaign. However, costs should be mitigated in order to make the products accessible and the process economically viable.
- Consequently, support from NGOs and local governments is key to allow tax reduction on recycled clothing and recycling plant set-up in order to lower costs as present them as feasible alternatives.