A small size compared with primary materials, weak demand, and a lack of common specifications have been hindering the functioning of markets for secondary, recycled raw materials in the EU textiles industry.
- According to a report released by the European Environment Agency (EEA), titled ’Investigating Europe′s secondary raw material markets’, the market for textile waste does not meet the criteria to be a well-functioning market.
The Status of Markets: Textile waste currently fulfils only the criteria related to international trade and to competition with energy use.
- Textiles score poorly on criteria related to quantities, such as the share of SRM with respect to total market size; the industrial capacity for producing SRM; the stability of supply and demand; and the presence of compliance schemes, such as EPR schemes.
- Textile waste is traded as an SRM for downcycling activities. Only a very small volume of textile waste is recycled into new textiles and enters the market for new products.
The Barriers: Due to many technical challenges in fibre separation and fibre quality, little textile-to-textile recycling currently takes place.
- Two technology families can be distinguished — mechanical recycling and chemical recycling — and both face limitations and barriers.
- Chemical recycling causes environmental impacts due to the energy it requires and chemicals it uses.
- The major barriers to high-quality textile recycling include the diverse mix of materials — such as coatings, dyes and non-textile objects — and the mixing of different types of fibres.
The Status of Waste: Trading textile waste among EU Member States is a rather stable activity, with significant volumes exported from the EU.
- EU Member States mainly import textile waste originating from other Member States. Importing textile waste from non-EU-countries is rare.
- However, considerable amounts of textile waste are exported to non-EU countries. Of all textile waste generated domestically (in the EU-27), 53% is currently exported to non-EU countries, and 32% is exported to other Member States.
- This implies that the market for textile waste is rather significant and open.
The Volume of Waste: The report throws up a lot of numbers to contextualise the issue:
- The average textile consumption per person amounted to 6.0kg of clothing, 6.1kg of household textiles and 2.7kg of shoes in 2020. Textiles generate significant amounts of waste.
- In 2018, the EU-27 produced 2.17 million tonnes of textile waste.
- European legislation requires textiles to be separately collected by 2025, as this is a prerequisite for recycling or reuse.
- By the end of 2024, the European Commission is to consider setting reuse and recycling targets for municipal textile waste.
- Separately collected textile waste today is a mixture of reusable and non-reusable textiles.
- Reusable clothes are sold mainly to foreign markets, where they are either sold or end up as waste in landfill.
- Non-reusable textile waste is often downcycled (e.g. as rags, upholstery filling or insulation) or is incinerated.
- Approximately 1% of textile waste is recycled into new clothes, as technologies for recycling clothes into virgin fibres are only starting to emerge.