Europe generates more than 16 million tonnes of textile waste annually; 73% end up incinerated or in landfills and only 1% is recycled. Figures that make the textile industry one of the least sustainable on the planet. It is clear, therefore, that textile recycling has a fundamental role in the minimization and optimization of global waste management. In this sense, the future Waste Law, transposition of a European directive, in relation to the textile sector, will prohibit the destruction of fabrics and will force them to be reused. The standard aims to promote a cleaner industry with the creation of an ecotax. It will enter into force this first quarter of 2022.
NEW WASTE LAW
The textile industry had been, until now, left out of ecological regulations and regulations. The Law on Waste and Contaminated Soils, about to be approved, will mark a before and after for this industry. In this way, manufacturers will not be able to destroy unsold garments and will have to pay to recycle their waste. A process that will be very similar to that carried out today with glass containers and that would also have an entity similar to Ecoembes. This entity would be responsible for forcing to pay those who pollute through the figure of the extended responsibility of the producer (RAP). These restrictions will require the creation of a circuit of collection and selection of materials for subsequent recycling.
One of the consequences of the application of this new law could be the increase in the price of clothing when manufacturers apply to the final consumer the cost of recycling presses that they do not sell. The law also provides for minimum recycling targets, which will force manufacturers to design garments with criteria that facilitate their recycling, such as avoiding as much as possible the mixing of fibers or plastic ornaments. On the other hand, at European level we are also working on the creation of a common labeling and certification so that the consumer can know and compare the sustainability of the clothes he buys.
TOWARDS A MORE SUSTAINABLE SECTOR
This new regulation aims to get Europe and Spain to approve textile recycling. Modare’s latest report reveals that our country is far from the recycling figures forecast for 2025. Thus, the European Union agreed that, by 2025, at least 55% of household waste, including textiles, would be reused or recycled. A percentage that will increase to 60% in 2030 and 65% in 2035. On December 31, 2025, in addition, the separate collection of textiles will be mandatory. Spain, however, currently only recycles 35% of domestic waste, a percentage that in the textile field barely reaches 12% of the waste generated annually and some 900,000 tons of waste end up in landfills.
To meet these European textile sustainability objectives, our cities will have to implement new systems of selective collection and selection of textile waste (in the style of what is already happening today with the collection and selection of packaging, paper, cardboard and glass) for subsequent recycling. In this scheme, our technology can play a key role in making the goal of reducing textile waste set by the European Union for 2025 a reality and, in this way, significantly reduce the environmental impact of the textile industry.
An impact that is currently nothing trivial. The manufacture of one kilo of polyester fiber, for example, consumes 108 kW per hour, 21 liters of water and emits 3.3 kilos of carbon dioxide; while it takes more than 1,500 liters of water to make a kilo of cotton. Where does this waste end up? The pieces in good condition are recovered for reuse and distributed nationally or internationally by entities such as Caritas (which collects 41% of the total textile waste) or Humana (16%). Clothes that, for one reason or another, cannot be reused but recycled are intended for the manufacture of rags or insulating materials. Those that can neither be recycled nor recovered, are destined for energy recovery.
TEXTILE RECYCLING A COMPLEX PROCESS
Technological innovation is therefore especially essential when it comes to optimizing the recycling processes of textile waste, often very complex due to the combination of different materials and clothing in garments. An optimization that involves making a correct classification of textile waste according to its composition, as is currently done with plastics, thanks to state-of-the-art equipment of NIR technology and Artificial Intelligence, such as the Ecopack and Ecopick of PICVISA. These optical solutions allow, among other functions, to automatically classify and separate various types of materials, by composition, color or shape, in the case of textile waste cotton, polyester, viscose and other fibers. In addition, PICVISA solutions are already available to be implemented in undifferentiated collection environments such as the current scheme.
Textile recycling is undoubtedly emerging as the first and fundamental step to get the second most polluting industry on the planet to begin its transition to sustainability.
The textile industry is already beginning to adapt to this transformation towards a business model based on more than fashions, colors and results. The new concept that inspires the sector is environmental, social and economic responsibility. This more regenerative and restorative model bets on quality rather than quantity and tends to align with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A sustainable transition that involves optimizing the life cycle of garments, greater circularity of the sector, the existence of educational policies, changes in consumer behavior and a lot of technological innovation.