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Study Outlines India’s Textile Recycling Powerhouse Potential

Fashion for Good on Wednesday released “Wealth in Waste: India’s Potential to Bring Textile Waste Back Into the Supply Chain,” a first-of-its-kind study and comprehensive analysis of the Indian textile waste landscape.

With global fiber-to-fiber recycling increasing, Fashion for Good said India is in a position to leverage existing infrastructure and resources to emerge as a leader in capturing waste, implementing new sorting and recycling technologies and reintroducing its textile waste back into the global market, securing its role as the leading circular sourcing region.

“Advanced recycling technologies are at the cusp of closing the textile-to textile recycling loop,” Katrin Ley, managing director at Fashion for Good, said. “The resources and materials are available, yet the infrastructure and systems to source and provide higher quality feedstock fall short. With mounting pressure to reduce reliance on virgin sources and decarbonize the industry, what can be reused, must be reused to its full potential.”

Commissioned by Fashion for Good as part of the Sorting for Circularity; India Project, the study was conducted in collaboration with Sattva Consulting, Saahas Zero Waste and Reverse Resources, specialist organizations in strategic impact, waste, resource and data management, and scaling textile recycling infrastructures.

To enable an effective transition towards circularity, the study attempts to fill the data gaps that exist in the textile waste landscape in India. By building a better understanding across three key streams–domestic post-consumer waste, pre-consumer waste and imported waste–and by mapping stakeholders, geographical flows and recognizing challenges in infrastructure, the study aims to help ecosystem players to orchestrate actions, devise solutions and mediate accordingly.

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“The industry stands to gain a clear map of the textile waste value chain in India, armed with a robust set of recommendations for action,” Anita Chester, managing director at Laudes Foundation, India, said. “This now forms a strong basis to move forward collaboratively to scale the investments, infrastructure and innovation needed to make circularity in fashion a reality in India.”

The study noted that up to 7,800 kilotons of textile waste is accumulated in India annually, the largest share of which, an estimated 51 percent, originates from Indian consumers–post-consumer waste, with factory waste and offcuts–pre-consumer waste, amounting to 42 percent, followed by imported waste that contributes a further 7 percent. India’s textile waste accounts for 8.5 percent of the global total, with only 59 percent of the textile waste in India finding its way back into the textile industry through reuse and recycling, and a small fraction making it back into the global supply chain.

A lack of strict regulation, informal and in some cases non-existent, traceability systems, excessive cost competitiveness and limited technological infrastructure to process certain waste types has limited the potential of circular value chains, the study said. Detailing the bottlenecks in the current processing of waste, the study identifies materials that can be ranked according to their best potential through a waste value hierarchy framework, as well as actions that can push the materials up the hierarchy in the future.

Outlining the potential for collaborative and systemic interventions to fortify circularity in the Indian textile waste industry and reintroduce it into the supply chain, the study presents a three-step approach to driving this transition–enabling visibility and access to waste, harnessing recycling potential of India, and establishing systems, infrastructure and regulations for waste management.

Sorting for Circularity; India was initiated by Fashion for Good and launched in November, 2021. The project is supported by Laudes Foundation as catalytic funder, PVH Corp., Adidas, Levi Strauss & Co, Tesco, Primark, Arvind Limited, Birla Cellulose and Welspun India, and technology partner Reverse Resources.