Apr 13, 2023
There’s clearly no circularity without recycling. Suston reaches out to
There's clearly no circularity without recycling. Suston reaches out to sustainability consultant Joel Svedlund to hear the latest in the outdoor industry's efforts to close the loop.
The currently most developed and commercialized recycling methods generally add post-consumer materials into a material cycle (e.g. PET bottles into fibers), but most do not have a plan for the following product lives (e.g. when textile fibres go into the next use phase). Most of these methods downgrade the used materials and introduce contaminants which are then hard to get rid of in the next recycling stage.
That's why closing one's own loop is considered a "holy grail" in terms of true circularity because it implies not degrading materials if they can be used repeatedly in the same use.
Generally, I would not consider the outdoor industry as better or worse off than the general material streams it populates. Many trials in material choices have been made, but on a larger scale there are very few examples of existing closed-loop material streams.
In textile, the most advancement has come in polyester recycling (several chemical recycling plants are scaling up), cellulosic regenerated fibres (e.g. Re:newcell and Spinnova) and polyamide (e.g. Hyosung's Mipan Regen and Aquafil's Econyl).
There are also scaled up efforts for mechanical recycling of fibers like cotton, polyester and wool, but they are not considered closed loop as they degrade material quality and require large quantities of mixed-in virgin material to maintain a quality level that is acceptable for apparel.
The biggest challenge to closing the loop is that current materials and products are not invented/ designed with circularity in mind, and there are very few incentives to do so. Things like coatings, mixed fibres and chemical content all interfere with recycled yarn quality. And to complicate matters further, there is currently very low traceability among products, less for materials and almost none for chemical ingredients.
This will change in the EU with the new Digital Product Passport standards, extended producer responsibility, and repairability regulations. That's why brands and suppliers should begin investing in traceability right now, and develop knowledge about circularity. This will affect the whole company in a fundamental way, so they must make sure to connect all parts of the company and keep the innovation process close to the management team to enable shared learning.
Textile Exchange is a global non-profit organization focused on promoting sustainability and circularity in the textile industry.
"We are helping the textiles industry to move away from a linear model and towards a closed loop system based on textile-to-textile recycling," shares Kate Riley, Fiber & Materials Strategy Lead: Synthetics at Textile Exchange.
"To the extent that new inputs are absolutely necessary, these will come from regenerative sources."
To achieve this vision, Kate Riley points to three powerful tools at Textile Exchange's disposal. The first is its 8 certifications, which embed circular practices and outcomes. The second is its Preferred Fiber and Materials (PFM) Report, which provides an overview of the sustainability performance of various preferred fibers and materials.
Finally, its "challenges" task the industry to turn the needle towards a particular goal. Textile-to-textile recycling will be key to its upcoming 2030 challenge, according to Kate Riley.
Recycling Case: Textile Exchange