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BIR World Recycling Convention - Textiles Division: Traditional collection and sorting industry must prepare for change

  • 02 June 2021

With the EU set to publish a dedicated roadmap for achieving circularity in textiles, the recycling landscape was already changing and further significant developments were certain to take place over the next few years, experts agreed at today’s online meeting of the BIR Textiles Division.

Moderating a panel discussion, Alan Wheeler of the UK’s Textile Recycling Association said he was already advising companies that “in order to stay in business, you need to keep moving forward”. And BIR Textiles Division President Martin Böschen of Switzerland-based TEXAID * Textilverwertungs AG acknowledged: “Our industry might have to change its business model.”

However, the most unequivocal statement came from Emile Bruls, advisor for the Rijkswaterstaat agency which forms part of the Dutch ministry responsible for the environment and circular economy. “You have to prepare yourself as the collecting and sorting industry because the world is changing,” he said. “You should rethink the business you are in. You have to be collaborative and see if there is a specific role you can play within this completely new circular textiles business.”

One of the changes identified by the expert panel was the emergence of peer-to-peer platforms for selling/exchanging garments. David Watson, Senior Consultant at the PlanMiljø sustainability and environmental consultancy in Denmark, said such ventures helped to build public awareness of the value of textiles and encouraged consumers to buy more expensive, higher-quality products because they knew that, at some future point, they could recoup some of the cost by reselling on a platform.

The importance of driving up quality and durability was regularly emphasized during the online meeting on June 2. Mr Watson expressed the hope that the EU strategy to be published later this year would focus on “how to keep textiles going for as long as possible in their current form”. He suggested that economic instruments such as taxes could help encourage the production of garments that were durable, repairable and, ultimately, “easily recycled in a viable way”. The same speaker also called for recycled content demand to be boosted - for example, through green procurement criteria.

Mr Bruls reiterated the need to “keep the value (of textiles) as high as possible for as long as possible”. He hoped the EU strategy would put the emphasis on: innovation in recycling; new business models; reuse; and tackling the issue of “fast fashion”. Eco-design - including less use of hazardous substances - was “very important”, he insisted.

Providing a brands perspective, Jonas Eder-Hansen of the Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) leadership forum for industry collaboration on sustainability in fashion spoke of the importance of educating designers and providing them with the tools to create circular design strategies. The GFA’s Public Affairs Director also described as “crucial” the need for existing recyclers to engage in partnerships with brands.

Summing up the current economic position for collectors and sorters, Mr Böschen estimated that only around one-third of collection volumes “has a positive margin contribution” whereas costs exceed revenues for the remaining two-thirds.

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