Circular Success Stories
We’ll forgive you (just this one time) for thinking that while the circular economy works well in theory, it can be difficult to implement in practice. The principles are clear to see, but examples of success seem harder to come by.
Fortunately, this misconception overlooks the numerous success stories unfurling around us, the various products that show circular journeys of textile/ fibre materials into new finished garments. The circular economy already works, and here are the examples that prove it.
What’s more, there are many simple steps individuals can take to part in the shift towards a circular apparel industry, like repairing, reusing and sharing clothes. Today though, we will look at the end of life of textiles once they can no longer be used in their product form.
By following the successful recycling journeys of 3 textile/ fibre materials into new finished products, we see that in very practical terms, collector/sorters, brands and recyclers have already made closed (and open) loop textile production a reality.
Circular Cotton Solutions
Two established methods exist for recovering original cotton fibres into new products, mechanical and chemical recycling. Both involve breaking down your clothes into either fibres or to a polymer level, so that what was once considered “waste” can be spun into new yarns.
On the mechanical side, Spain based Recover allow for fully closed-loop production, by taking post-industrial fabric scraps, shredding and spinning the original fibres into “recovered” yarns that are knit or woven into new textiles that work great for woven household textiles and knits. You can take a look at the various products using the technology here.
From January 2019, Recover will be one of a number of companies taking part in Circle Economy’s recycling pilots, allowing them to incorporate post-consumer textiles (your old clothes) into their production techniques.
On the chemical side of circular cotton, Worn Again’s polymer recycling technology can break down, decontaminate and separate polyester polymers and cellulose from cotton, from post-consumer textiles and PET bottles and packaging and re-spin them into new filaments that can be turned back into new textiles as part of a continual cycle.
In other words, they can reprocess pure and blended cotton, cellulosic and polyester textiles, which together represent around 80% of all clothing and textiles, into new usable yarns.
Circular Wool Solutions
Circular wool products use a similar process to the mechanical breakdown of cotton. The sweaters, scarves and woolly hats produced by Loopalife provide a great example of circular garments available on the market.
The obvious benefit of using the wool already in circulation is the energy and emission saved that is associated with the intensive sheep farming process. What’s more, with sheep preferring to spend their time in muddy fields, their wool requires washing in a water-intensive process. The benefits of Loopalife’s process, however, goes far beyond these savings.
Uniquely, no chemicals, paint or water is used during the most important step of Loopalife’s production process, the dying or colouring stage. Collected wool is separated according to over 25 fibre colour types, meaning that individual colours can be blended to achieve various shades.
With all the ‘waste’ materials being sourced locally, each sweater saves 6 kg of CO22 emissions, 500 litres of water and is free from additional chemicals.
You can shop their latest sweaters, scarves, hats and more here.
Nylon/ Polyester Solutions
Closed loop solutions, thankfully, are not limited to the natural fibres found in cotton and wool. In fact, even the plastic bottles and ocean pollution can be reworked into new nylon or polyester textiles.
Ecoalf, has worked closely with their suppliers to produce high-quality textiles made from PET bottles that compete with virgin polyester used in the fashion world. The plastic bottles are collected and passed through a series of cleaning and crushing steps to obtain plastic flakes that, through a mechanical process, are converted into the polyester polymer. That polymer is spun into yarn used to make brand new Ecoalf products. So far, Ecoalf has collected over 70 million plastic bottles in this process.
Alongside bottles, ‘ghost nets’ are among the greatest killers in our oceans. Made of synthetic materials, mainly nylon, which decays slowly and can drift for years, nets end up caught on reefs, catching fish, turtles, crustaceans, birds or marine mammals. By destroying corals they can wipe out entire ecosystems while swaying in the current.
In a similar process, Ecoalf’s suppliers have collected 80 tonnes of nylon fishing nets and worked with Aquafil to repurpose them into new nylon garments. On the theme of water, since the transformation of an old fishing net into fibres requires half the chemical steps of the conventional fossil-based process, the savings in H20, energy and emissions of CO22 are invaluable.
You can browse their latest collection here.
While the naysayers might still insist that the circular economy works in theory but not in practice, the outlook for textile production clearly looks positive. Along with the above examples, consumers should remember that recycling is one of the last steps needed to bring about a circular system. First, we can find ways to reduce consumption, reuse clothes that have already been produced, repair garments, upcycle garments into new fashionable pieces, and then finally recycle.
If the recycling route is for you, as a brand, manufacturer or collector/sorter already operating, you can take part in Circle Economy’s recycling pilot and contribute to making the recycling of post-consumer textiles a reality.
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