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The Loop Can’t Close Until Everyone Accepts Responsibility

The statistics surrounding textile recycling are enough to make anyone with a conscience cringe: Americans toss over 80 pounds of used clothing each year, and 60 percent of clothing ends up in incinerators or landfills within a year.

What’s more, recycling of textiles is virtually non-existent, with less than 1 percent of existing textiles going back into textiles, according to Cyndi Rhoades, CEO/founder of Worn Again Technologies.

In Sourcing Journal’s “Closing the Loop” webinar, Rhoades joined MeiLin Wan, vice president, textile sales at Applied DNA, to discuss the challenges and solutions of textile recycling and how companies can buy, sell and design with circularity in mind. Given that the total number of garments the average consumer purchases each year increased by 60 percent from 2000 to 2014, there’s a lot clearly that needs to change.

Wan on the responsibility of designers when it comes traceability:  

“Traceability used to be thought of as a maybe, but now it really is a must-have—something that has to get beyond paper-based transaction certificates. And it’s not enough to just wave that certificate and say, ‘Oh, I’m good to go.’ You really need to know that the actual raw material that you’re using is authentic and also traceable. I think designers are the ones that can actually help be a part of that decision-making process to enhance the sustainability.”

Rhoades on industry collaboration and how governments can (or should) play a role:

“I think more and more the big brands and retailers and supply chain are realizing that to solve such a massive problem around textile waste—and all of the challenges that we have in the industry—that collaboration is really needed to overcome some of the big challenges. And we see this in many of the industry working groups that are doing such great work to tackle some of these challenges. …

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“We really need to see massive change happening around infrastructure so that we’re increasing the volumes of textiles being collected. We need to see better programs for separating textiles from general rubbish. There’s all sorts of aspects we can look at both from the end-of-use side, but also working with the brands and incentivizing that would really, really push this space forward.”

Wan on whether consumers are aware of the connection between the clothes in their closets and the issue of the climate crisis:

“I think consumers are just still pretty much addicted to fast fashion. That is something that has been inculcated in the culture for decades. I think that it’s not going to just change overnight. … There are at least 85 percent of clothes that Americans buy, that goes to landfills each year. So if you think about that, that means roughly 80 pounds per person per year of textile waste going to landfills. So I think that consumers can’t just expect for the industry to do everything. The consumers need to also have that greater connection to their clothes for mindful thought about what they buy and the choices that they make.”

Listen to “Closing to Loop” as we explore:

  • Just why textile and garment-to-garment recycling is so difficult
  • The differences between mechanical and chemical recycling
  • How to design with recycling in mind
  • The importance of traceability and the tools that can be used
  • Solutions for recycling blended fibers
  • The advances of designing with recycled PET
  • The areas most in need of consumer education—and the best ways to teach them
  • Where cost plays into all of this

Click to watch “Closing the Loop.”