An industry-led initiative wants to re-route waste streams in a push for circularity.
In a new report, Accelerating Circularity, Inc. proposed how interactions between brands, consumers, collectors and recyclers could be redesigned, while etching out material flows in a new kind of circular textile-to-textile system. Funded by retailers like Walmart and some of its members, the organization counts execs from Lenzing, Target, VF Corp., Gap and others on its steering committee.
“The future of circular textile-to-textiles systems must start now,” said Accelerating Circularity founder and president Karla Magruder, who founded the organization in 2019 in an effort to advance fashion’s move from linear to circular. “Our models include both old and new system actors to support the transition to robust circularity.”
This spring, the organization will launch what it calls its Circular Textile System Trials after only a year of research across textiles, collectors, sorters, preprocessors and recyclers.
The report, which introduces a revamped textile use case hierarchy (typically reuse, resale, repair before remade goods can happen), emphasized the need for quality feedstocks (with value to be captured by the brands) and mechanical and chemical recycling technologies, while proposing sorting matrices for maximum efficiency and value capture.
Existing and new links or interactions along the supply chain are shown with brands and retailers, collectors and sorters, recyclers and consumers each actively participating in new ways. To bring the organization’s vision to life, hypothetical textile-to-textile “stories” are told with products like circular denim, T-shirts and towels, where value is captured mostly in the U.S.
For the jeans, the model outlined the use of Refibra, a combination of 30 percent textile-derived pulp and 70 percent wood pulp sourced from sustainably managed forests. Textile for the pulp is collected in the Southeast, while the fiber plant is located in Alabama. The recycled cotton, or rCotton, is collected and processed in the Southeast and made from Texas-grown organic cotton. Then the fiber is shipped to Mississippi where it is spun into yarn, and the remaining fabric and garment construction happens in California — later to be shipped to U.S. brands and retailers.
It remains to be seen how a global circular fashion system — especially as it pertains to reuse — would be mapped.
The U.S. is the largest exporter of used clothing in the world, with trade value of goods amounting to some $738 million, with the U.K. trailing that by $200 million in 2019, according to a February analysis of export data from Statista. Many of these used clothes go unsold by clothing donators, finding their way to markets in Ghana where used clothing is in excess — a condition exacerbated by the pandemic.
As circularity becomes tangible with textile-to-textile recycling already breaking new barriers (partners like chemical recycler Renewcell and vintage wholesaler Bank and Vogue committed to recycling 30,000 metrics tons of used clothing every year) and waste streams are mounting, how the future circular textile systems are shaped can create many winners and losers — depending on how opportunities and gaps are addressed.
In this trial, Accelerating Circularity hopes to address the environmental, social and economic impacts for baselines in long-term impact studies.
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