In the report titled “Facilitating a Circular Economy for Textiles,” scientists recommend strategies to address this issue and build on a three-day workshop held at NIST in September 2021 that brought together manufacturers, industry associations, recyclers , waste managers, researchers, policy makers and several leading fashion brands who share the goal of increasing circularity in the textile industry.
The main challenges facing the current system identified in the workshop include the lack of infrastructure and well-established systems for consistent, practical and widespread collection of quality textile waste (clean, dry) and the current system of textile circularity not economical. Large-scale reuse, repair and recycling are hampered by high transport, labor and processing costs and the declining quality and cost of new products.
Only about 15% of used clothing and other textiles in the United States are reused or recycled, according to a new report from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The rest is thrown to landfill or incinerator. This wastes scarce resources, contributes to climate change and pollutes waterways, the report says.
There are also other challenges. Sorting and grading textiles relies on expensive manual labor, although it is not possible to visually identify the fiber composition. There are no harmonized sorting standards or criteria, which challenges downstream markets. Commercial scale recycling processes for textiles are fiber type dependent, require a pure, reliable, high volume feedstock, and generally cannot handle mixed material inputs (fiber mixtures). The separation of mixtures and the disposal of colorants, additives and finishes (eg functional coatings) often require or generate hazardous substances that require proper disposal. Limited recycling processes exist for certain fiber types.
“Textiles are one of the fastest growing categories in the waste stream,” said Kelsea Schumacher, environmental engineer working with NIST and co-author of the report. “But there are many opportunities to reduce waste in this sector that would bring great economic and environmental benefits,” she said.
The report defines textiles as including clothing, footwear, bedding, towels, upholstery and carpets. However, the main type of textile in the municipal waste stream, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is discarded clothing.
On average, each person in the United States threw away about 47 kg of textiles in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available.
Fibre2Fashion (DS) News Desk