Guestpost – Hi! My name is Aniek Baltussen. I am a sustainable business graduate who loves fashion and sees sustainable fashion as the future. “Green is the new black”.
Each year in Europe over 6 million tonnes of clothing is consumed. Also, each year in Europe about 16 million tonnes of textile waste is generated (including towels, carpets, bed sheets, … well, you get the picture).
Unfortunately, clothes are treated as single waste items, which obviously causes huge sustainability issues. On one hand we throw our garments easily ‘away’ while on the other hand we purchase new garments made from new resources. Shouldn’t we be able to close the loop and start imitating nature with its beautiful designed ecosystems and reuse this garment waste?
Did you know that currently only about 15% of the wasted textile material is recycled and most part of this is being downcycled? This means that the recycled textile is of lower quality and functionality than the original material. Often, it’s used as car stuffing or cleaning cloths. Rarely is it upcycled into new high quality, functional garments again.
But how come we see more and more fashion brands offering items from recycled textiles? What’s this about? Is it another type of greenwashing or can we really trust that these materials are more sustainable than materials that come from ‘virgin’ resources? When a brand sells for example ‘contains recycled cotton’ garments or ‘made from recycled polyester’ you should keep these things in mind:
1. 100% recycled garments are rare (for now)
Considering current recycling technologies, it is the case that 100% recycled textiles is much more expensive and/or of lower quality than virgin materials. Recycled content is therefore often mixed with virgin fibers to enhance the quality or financial costs of the item. Is that a bad thing? No, not necessarily. First, it shows current developments with the use of recycled textiles. The positive impact of 100 companies producing their fabrics with 10% recycled material is far more than one brand selling 100% recycled content-garments. Let’s call it economies of scale. Second, there are a lot of current technologies working to a higher and higher percentage of recycled textiles. For example, MUD Jeans is working on creating the first 100% recycled jeans in 2020 and UPSET is working on the production of 100% recycled cotton yarn. Keep an eye on these developments!
2. Recycled content from non-textile resources
Clothes made from recycled textile can also be made from a fabric with recycled content that was originally another item. For example, creating swimwear from recycled PET bottles. If these PET bottles were wasted and would otherwise be thrown away and go into landfill, or incinerated, it’s better to create clothes from it. RIGHT?! Great example of upcycling.
Another example is creating nylon from abandoned fishing nets, which contributes to cleaner oceans (hurray!). Creating clothes from other waste material as a resource, does not necessarily contribute to a lower textile waste pile, although it does diminish the use of raw material for clothing production.
We should keep in mind that upcycling processes shouldn’t be hazardous to the environment or people. So, keep asking your favorite brand how this product came to be.
3. No official definition of recycled textile yet
At the moment there is no definition or agreement to what textile recycling means. Even an item that contains the lowest percentage of recycled material can be labelled with this information. The NEN (Dutch organisation that creates technical definitions) is currently working on a definition for recycled textiles. For example, they consider whether a recycled product can also contain virgin material or whether it should be made from textile-to-textile recycling only. This will create much more understanding in the future.
So, when purchasing clothes from recycled textile, know that there are good developments going. But also keep on asking brands what they exactly mean with their labels, with above named top three in mind. Being informed is key to making a considerate buying decision, as we vote with our money the kind of world we’d like to see.
Do you want to know more about recycled textiles or do you have questions for Aniek or Rachel? Feel free to do that in the comments below. Do you see mistakes? Let us know! Do you want to stay informed? Sign up for our Newsletter or social via Facebook and Instagram.