As people buy more clothes, consumers and manufacturers are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impact of fast fashion on the environment. Many consumers see recycling as an easy way to ease the environmental impact of fast fashion. While recycling and reusing textiles can reduce environmental impact, recycling processes and systems may also have their own negative impacts. It’s important that consumers and manufacturers are fully informed on recycling, so that it can be developed into a truly effective tool to increase sustainability in fashion.

Textile recycling can help reduce clothing destined for landfill

The temptation of fast fashion seems harder to resist each year, leading to a literal throwaway attitude to clothes. In the UK, it’s estimated that £140 million worth of clothes goes to landfill each year. Recycling textiles seems like an obvious solution to limit the environmental impact of landfill, and there are many positives to effective recycling schemes. Cutting landfill through recycling reduces the production of the greenhouse gas methane, as well as chemicals which contaminate both surface and groundwater sources. Textile recycling through the selling of second-hand clothes can also offer economic benefits to the community both in the UK and abroad. Making consumers aware that textiles can be recycled will also develop a more sustainable attitude to clothing and fashion consumption overall.

But textile recycling isn’t as easy as it sounds

Although the positive impacts of clothes recycling seem obvious, there are some potential negative effects and problems with recycling. The massive trade of second-hand clothes for recycling has also had negative socio-economic impacts for many African countries. Eastern African countries such as Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda have implemented a ban on the importing of second-hand clothing in order to strengthen their own textile economies which have taken a severe hit due to recycling imported clothes.

Even when consumers, companies and manufacturers have the best of intentions to recycle, the current system of production and fast fashion mean it’s not that simple. Recycling fabrics to useable quality is a difficult process, and currently not perfect. Recycling synthetic fibres into nylon and polyester is easier, but reusing wool or cotton clothing is a lengthy process using many resources to achieve the required standard. Currently, recycled cotton must be mixed with virgin fibres to be useful. The common poly-cotton mixes common in fast fashion items make it impossible to fully recycle, meaning that these fast -fashion clothes are still likely to end up in landfill.

Closed loop textile recycling is the key

To make recycling fully effective, designers and manufacturers need to work together from the start to create garments that are capable of being 100% recycled. ‘Closed-loop’ fashion design is the key to this, starting with fabrics and designs that can be fully re-used. Innovation in fabrics such as Econyl are beginning to become more mainstream, creating materials with a multiple life cycle value. As ever with sustainable fashion though, consumer behaviour also needs to become more sustainable. Consumers must become more aware of recycling possibilities as well as reducing their overall fashion consumption. Companies wanting to recycle garments must also weigh up the recycling options to recycle as efficiently as possible. Although recycling within fashion currently has challenges, it’s an essential part of a future closed-loop fashion system that doesn’t generate material waste. Seeking advice from textile experts can help environmentally aware companies make the most efficient and impactful recycling choice.

Textile Consult is a management and training consultancy operating worldwide. We are currently working with clients to find the best solution for sustainability- by recycling textile products with minimal negative environmental impacts. Contact us today to find out how we can advise your business on sustainability within the textile industry.