Each year people throw away apparel worth an estimated $460 billion that they could continue to wear. Trends such as fast fashion heighten the issue, producing high volumes of low-quality fashion items that are difficult to recycle. If the average number of times a garment is worn were doubled, greenhouse gas emissions from textiles would be 44% lower.
Actions to take
1. Incentivize and Support Design for Longevity and Recyclability
Textile products can be designed to last a long time by using high-quality fibers, making them easy to repair, and designing ‘timeless’ styles. Recyclability can be built in by using safe materials that are easy to disassemble, as well as focusing on homogenous fibers rather than complicated blends.
2. Produce Virgin Natural Fibers Sustainably, Including Land Use
Even with large-scale recycling, it will be unrealistic for the textiles industry to use only recycled materials in the foreseeable future. Action should therefore focus on working to produce virgin plant-based fibers such as cotton in a more sustainable way.
3. Encourage the Market to Use Less Clothing, and for Longer
Rethinking consumption means buying less, buying second-hand, supporting sustainable fashion, and keeping clothes in use for longer.
4. Guide and Support New Business Models for Environmental, Financial, and Social Triple-Win
New business models such as subscription, rental, and re-commerce need to be designed with environmental, social and financial impacts in mind, so that they can grow and contribute in a meaningful way to the wellbeing of people and planet.
5. Where Used Textiles Trade Occurs, Ensure Environmental and Socio-Economic Benefits
Around 70% of textiles collected for reuse is sent overseas, but much of it is likely to end up as waste rather than actually being repurposed or recycled. The used textiles trade should be managed to ensure environmental benefits and help preserve local industries.
6. Strategically Plan Collection, Sorting, and Recycling Operations
Collection and sorting of used textiles is very labour-intensive, and recycling facilities are large-scale projects requiring long-term investment. All need to be planned carefully to ensure they are in the right place and offering the right services.
7. Increase Efficiency and Quality in Textiles Sorting
Textiles sorting is currently labor intensive, costly, and inaccurate. Improving the efficiency and quality of sorting is crucial for textiles recycling, since the quality and safety of recycled textiles strongly depends on what goes into them.
8. Make the Recycled Fibers Market Competitive
Only when recycled fibers are market competitive can businesses adopt them on a significant scale, and in turn further stimulate the development of recycled material supply chains.
9. Integrate and Advance Decent Work in the Transition to a Circular Economy for Textiles
A circular economy for textiles will have a complex effect on decent work, shifting employment from farming and manufacturing to later stages of the value chain such as repair, resale, sorting and recycling.