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Project finds $1.5 billion opportunity for fibre-to-fibre recycling in the U.S.

Somebody sorts clothing into clear bins
The survey revealed that 60 percent of respondents divert textiles, while four percent discard them, driven primarily by factors such as condition and fit. Fashion for Good

Fashion for Good has launched the Sorting for Circularity USA report unveiling significant findings from the project. The report delves into consumer disposal behaviour, textile waste composition, and the potential for fibre-to-fibre recycling within the U.S. It provides insights for making informed decisions for further investments, infrastructure development, and the steps toward circularity.

Understanding the U.S. textile waste landscape

The United States is a leader in textile consumption and waste generation, positioning itself as one of the largest sources of secondary raw materials for post-consumer textile feedstock. Despite this, only 15 percent of the textile waste generated in the U.S. is currently recovered, with 85 percent ending up in landfills or incinerators.

With the impending policies in the European Union and certain American states, alongside commitments from both public and private sectors to promote fibre-to-fibre recycling, there is a growing demand for infrastructure related to post-consumer textile collection, sorting, and recycling. 

"The Sorting for Circularity USA project addresses a key challenge in the textile industry: transforming textile waste into a valuable resource. This project investigates the connection between consumer behaviour, waste generation, and available recycling technologies. The goal is to establish a system where all textiles are utilised effectively, minimizing waste," said Katrin Ley, managing director of Fashion for Good 

Addressing data gaps

In the pursuit of establishing a functional reverse supply chain and the necessary infrastructure, two critical areas lack data: consumer disposal behaviour and material characteristics of post-consumer textiles. The Sorting for Circularity USA project addressed these gaps through a national consumer survey and waste composition analysis. 

The survey revealed that 60 percent of respondents divert textiles, while four percent discard them, driven primarily by factors such as condition and fit. On the other hand, the waste composition analysis unveiled that over 56 percent of post-consumer textiles are suitable for fibre-to-fibre recycling, with cotton and polyester being the most prevalent fibre types, indicating a substantial potential for these textiles to be used as feedstock for mechanical and chemical recycling processes. 

"This research provides defensible insight into two parts of the recovery value chain with little to no existing data: Firstly how consumers decide what to do with textiles they no longer want, and secondly the fibre composition of post-consumer textiles. With these new findings, we can enhance collection systems to capture more textiles, calculate the financial potential for textile recycling, and build supportive, data-driven policy. We are eager to continue building upon this research to advance further opportunities for textile circularity," said Marisa Adler of RRS.

Charting the path to a circular textiles future

The project revealed a $1.5 billion opportunity for fibre-to-fibre recycling by redirecting non-rewearable textiles from landfills and incinerators to recycling streams. The report outlines growth strategies for the U.S. textile recycling industry, emphasizing enhanced financial value through efficiency improvements, increased commodity valuation, and policy mechanisms like extended producer responsibility schemes. Collaboration among stakeholders is crucial, including brands, government, retailers, consumers, collectors, sorters, recyclers, and financial institutions, to promote circularity, invest in research and development, and advocate for supportive policies and incentives to drive technological innovation. This redirection of textiles towards recycling underscores the substantial economic potential of embracing circularity in the textile industry. 

There is an opportunity to build on these insights and assess the feasibility of different sorting business models and (semi) automated sorting technologies to create a demo facility suitable for closed-loop textile recycling. Evaluating the commercial and technical feasibility of a semi-automated sorting process and identifying investment opportunities to scale solutions nationwide. 

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