Clothes and more clothes. The wardrobes are crammed with clothing, but we only use 40%.
The global production of garments has doubled in the last 15 years to about 100,000 million a year and we use them 36% less times. This means that we are consuming more and more clothes, but we are wearing them less.
The blame for this waste is due to the consumer model called fast-fashion, which consists of renewing the collections of the shop windows every three weeks, to create a false sense of obsolescence that encourages unsustainable hyperconsumption.
This commercial strategy also tends to frivolize the real value of textile products and the agents involved in the long value chain of this industrial sector. Sales and discounts only make things worse.
One of the consequences of all this problem is the increase in waste generation. For example in Spain, today it is estimated that 900,000 tons of textile products are thrown into landfills per year.
Although many NGO campaigns try to recover these garments, they do not collect even 10% of the total waste generated.
Changes are coming in the regulations for the management of textile waste.
Africa has already warned that it will not accept the import of more second-hand clothes from Europe.
France has already banned the incineration of excess clothing from the collections of big brands and this will soon arrive in Spain.
The State Waste Management Framework Plan expects to reach 50% readiness for waste reuse and recycling by 2020.
On January 1, 2025, Spain is obliged to implement the selective collection of textile waste on the sidewalk.
By European regulations, on January 1, 2030, no waste that can be reused and / or recycled may be thrown into landfills.
This means that a large amount of textile waste that was previously exported, burned and / or went to landfills now will not. What will we do with this avalanche of textile waste?
We have great technological challenges to solve regarding the mechanical recycling of textiles, such as the previous elimination of zippers, buttons, etc., and the technology of separation by type of fiber mixtures in sorting plants is not yet sufficiently well resolved. Everyone talks about chemical recycling (separation of fibers by dissolution) but at this point the projects are no more than small pilot plants without any information on costs and their environmental impact.
Much research is lacking both on recycling techniques and on all of the final product that can be produced with these materials with the logic of the circular economy.
Finally, what are the practical limits of both mechanical and chemical recycling? What will we do when we have to recycle the textile that has already been previously recycled? How many times can polyester fiber from a fabric be recycled?
Important regulatory changes, research challenges and great business opportunities are approaching in the textile sector to face the management of its waste from the logic of sustainability.
By Enric Carrera i Gallissà, Director of the Terrassa Institute for Textile Research and Industrial Cooperation (INTEXTER). UPC, Polytechnic University of Catalonia - BarcelonaTech