There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness – Mahatma Gandhi
There is only one Earth planet, but we are consuming it as it there are three. Global consumption due to changing lifestyles, modernization and urbanisation is expected to be doubled in the next 40 years while the waste accumulation is going to increase for 70% by 2050 . At the moment, humanity spends the equivalent of 1.6 Earth’s renewable resources in order to maintain its current way of life. It is too much than nature is able to restore; so if it continues in this way, the world be not just overpopullated but also overpolluted. However, sustainable lifestyle with the focus on “Living Sustainably in Harmony with Nature”could contribute to 40-70% reduce in GHGs by 2050 stated on the recent World Environment Day 2022 with the campaign slogan “Only One Earth“.
Population growth, changing of living standards, increased assortment of textile materials, and the decreasing life cycle time of textile products contributed to global fiber consumption that generates a significant amount of textile waste. Globalization has made the apparel industry produce more clothing at low cost, therefore many consumers have adapted a ‘fast fashion’ trend that considers clothing to be a disposable product or product only for one use (fast fashion is characterized by mass production, variety, agility, and affordability has brought about a surge of apparel consumption). Global clothing consumption is 400% more than the amount consumed two decades earlier.
2. Textile statistics
Clothing and textiles contributed 6% to the world exports of all manufactured goods (Figure 1, 2017) and the global fiber market was dominated by polyester and cotton (Figure 2, 2019). Figure 3 predicts the trend of textile materials in coming years while the tables present an overview of energy consumption and CO2 emissions during production of different textile fibers. China and the European Union (EU) are the two leading regions for clothing and textile exports.
In general, textiles are the fourth highest-pressure category that use primary raw materials and water, after food, housing and transport, and the fifth for GHG emissions. It is estimated that less than 1% of all textiles worldwide are recycled into new textiles. Therefore, it is a crucial time to understand that 20th-century approaches in meeting 21st-century demands are not affordable and do not support sustainable development.[1,2,9]
It takes almost 8000 gallons of water )what one person drinks in seven years) to make one pair of jeans. And when those jeans are discarded, they join the 21 billion tons of textiles that end up in landfills each year. Of 100 billion items produced yearly, 14 for each human on the planet, three in five will be discarded within the year. And the Environmental Audit Committee found that 15% of all clothing fabric is wasted at the cutting stage of production, before it even has a chance to get into stores.
But the situation is different: worldwide, 75% of textile waste is landfilled, while 25% is recycled or reused and less than 1% of all textile is recycled back into clothing. The expansion of clothing and textile industry and the fast fashion trend among consumers have caused a rapid global increase in textile waste in the municipal solid waste stream. Landfilling of textile waste is a totally unsustainable option while reuse and recycling of textile products/waste offer a sustainable approach for textile waste management. Promoting an enhanced diversion of textile waste from landfills demands optimized reuse and recycling technologies; reuse is the more preferred option compared to recycling. Nowadays, a different technologies for textile reuse and recycling are available, anaerobic digestion, fermentation, composting, fiber regeneration, and thermal recovery. Improved collection systems, automation of sorting, and discovering new technologies for textile recycling remains a challenge. Therefore, it is essential to consider the efficient use and management of natural resources by reducing the raw material consumption through reuse and recycling of textile products regarded as waste, which would offer a sustainable approach for textile waste management.
Textile waste is considered as discarded or unwanted material from the production and use of fiber, textile, and clothing, which can be categorised into three types, pre-consumer, post-consumer, and industrial textile waste. The pre-consumer textile waste is viewed as ‘clean waste’, as a by-product during the manufacturing process of fibrous materials. The post-consumer textile waste consists of discarded garments or household textiles (sheets, towels, and pillowcases) that are worn-out, damaged, and outgrown of no value to consumers after their service life. Industrial textile waste is deemed as ‘dirty waste’ generated from commercial and industrial textile applications.
3. Textile Reuse and Recycling
Textile reuse encompasses various means for extending the useful service life of textile products from the first owner to another; this is commonly practiced by renting, trading, swapping, borrowing, and inheriting, facilitated by second-hand stores, garage sales, online and flea markets, and charities. On the other hand, textile recycling refers to reprocessing pre-consumer and post-consumer textile waste for use in new textile or non-textile products.
Textile recycling is typically classified as mechanical or chemical recycling. Mechanical recycling degrades waste into a decoration, construction, agricultural, and gardening use. Chemical recycling involves a process where polymers are depolymerized (polyester) or dissolved (cotton and viscose); it can produce fibers of equal quality compared to virgin materials. The sorted textile waste could be chemically treated to extract resources such as protein-based fibers to produce wood panel adhesives; and cellulosic fibers for bioethanol production, for example. On the other hand, textile recycling can be classified into upcycling, downcycling, closed-loop, and open-loop recycling. If the product made from recycled material is of higher quality or value than the original product, it is termed ‘upcycling’; the opposite of this is known as ‘downcycling’. Closed-loop recyclinginvolves recycling of a material from a product and reusing it in a more or less identical product. In contrast, open-loop recycling consists of recycling of a material from a product and reusing it in another product (Figure 4).
4. Designing sustainable products – Global and EU trends in fashion industry
There are many ways to maintain the fashion style in a sustainable way. While up to 80% of products’ environmental impacts are determined at the design phase, the linear pattern of “take-make-use-dispose” does not provide producers with sufficient incentives to make their products more circular (Figure 6). The circular economy is briefy driven by 3 major activities like reduce, reuse /реpurpose, and recycle, which are typical approaches of traditional waste management. Many products break down quickly, cannot be easily reused, repaired or recycled, while anothers are made for single use only.
Figure 6. Differences between linear and circular economy concept.
There are a lot of global trends about preventing and utilization of textile waste. Most of those initiatives consider climate changes issues, CO2neutrality, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), circular economy, regenerative systems, etc.
Positive examples of global initiatives that aim to reduce of textile waste and/or its utilization include: Textile exchange, The Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, The Science Based Targets initiative, The UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, Accelerating Circularity, Circle Economy’s Circle Textile Program, Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s initiative Make Fashion Circular, Fashion for Good, Fashion Positive, The Global Fashion Agenda, etc. Some of them are explain in more details in the continuation of the text below:
- The “Decade of Action” (by United Nations) aims to accelerate sustainable solutions to all the world’s biggest challenges — ranging from poverty and gender to climate change, inequality and closing the finance gap. The way we produce, (re)use, dispose of, or recycle our materials has an impact on every one of the SDGs. The textile industry has a powerful opportunity to shift the needle in both producer and consumer contexts
The UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion (an initiative of UN agencies and allied organizations) designed to contribute to the SDGs through coordinated action in the fashion sector. It works to support coordination between UN bodies working in fashion and promoting projects and policies that ensure that the fashion value chain contributes to the achievement of the SDGs’ targets.Moving away from the linear take-make-waste model to a circular economy is a powerful way to reduce the impacts and contribute to the urgent need for climate action and achieving the SDGs.
Furthermore, doing less harm is not sufficient – the new imperative is to build regenerative systems. Regenerative practices go beyond reducing damage to healing and repairing broken systems; it is used in the textile industry in a way of how raw materials are produced – it refers to practices that regenerate living systems, such as restoring soil health by building organic matter and conservation tillage, etc.
Examples of similar initiatives by the EU Commission are given by establishing sustainability principles (in general for all existing products). Priority will be given to addressing product groups identified in the context of the five value chains featuring in the Action Plan, such as electronics, ICT and textiles but also furniture and high impact intermediary products (steel, cement and chemicals, Figure 7). Namely, EU Commission will propose a comprehensive strategy for Textiles through a set of measures:
- applying the new sustainable product framework to textiles, including developing ecodesign measures to ensure that textile products are fit for circularity, ensuring the uptake of secondary raw materials, tackling the presence of hazardous chemicals, and empowering business and private consumers to choose sustainable textiles and have easy access to reuse and repair services;
improving the business and regulatory environment for sustainable and circular textiles in the EU, in particular by providing incentives and support to product-as-service models, circular materials and production processes, and increasing transparency through international cooperation;
boosting the sorting, re-use and recycling of textiles, including through innovation, encouraging industrial applications and regulatory measures such as extended producer responsibility.
- providing guidance to achieve high levels of separate collection of textile waste, which Member States have to ensure by 2025;
Figure 7. Five value chains promoted in Action Plan of EU Green Deal.
Circularity can be expected to have a positive net effect on job creation provided that workers acquire the skills required by the green transition. The potential of the social economy, which is a pioneer in job creation linked to the circular economy, will be further leveraged by the mutual benefits of supporting the green transition and strengthening social inclusion, notably under the Action Plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights.
Between 2012 and 2018 the number of jobs linked to the circular economy in the EU grew by 5% to reach around 4 million.
The global rise in population, industrial growth, and improved living standards have caused a global fiber consumption that generates an alarming amount of unwanted textiles. There is an urgent need to tackle the adverse efects of the fashion industry for sustainability through circular economy approaches. Economic and environmental sustainability should be incorporated into the longterm textile waste management program; the emerging economies in textile manufacturing should take the lead in shifting from a linear to a circular economy. Textile reuse and recycling are more sustainable ways of treaments of textile waste than incineration and landfilling, and reuse is more beneficial than recycling. Figure 8 gives sumamry of all aspects that should be taken in assumption during material selection, sustainable design and circulary economy approaches of textile products.
‘We cannot always build a future for our youth, but we can always build our youth for the future.‘ – Franklin D. Roosevelt
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About the Author
Dr. Trajkovska Petkoska is a Full Professor at University St. Kliment Ohridski-Bitola, N. R. Macedonia. She has been involved in the development of a number of novel products, proprietary material formulations and cutting-edge technologies. Examples include a variety of micro- and nano-composites, biomaterials, multi-functional thin films and coatings for customised applications, food-contact materials, antimicrobial formulations, renewable energy applications, etc. Her interests also include sustainable food systems, healthy diets and lifestyles, circular economy and zero-waste technologies and nanotechnologies. Anka is the author and co-author of numerous peer-reviewed scientific articles, three books and eight book chapters, training materials and courses for undergraduate/graduate studies at national and international academic institutions; she is also a reviewer of numerous scientific journals published by Elsevier, Wiley, Springer and MDPI. She has been granted two US patents and is co-inventor of several patents pending.
Trajkovska Petkoska holds PhD from University of Rochester, Chemical Engineering Department, Rochester, NY (USA) and MSc/BSc from University Sts Cyril and Methodius, Faculty of Technology and Metallurgy, Skopje (R. N. Macedonia).