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Industry Gets Behind Textile Waste and Recycling Projects in India

Two new projects supported by the apparel and home goods industry aim to help India’s textile sector deal with its pre- and post-consumer waste.

India is one of the world’s largest textile producers and importers of used clothing, but lacks an infrastructure to deal with textile waste, leaving an estimated 4 million informal waste workers trapped in low-income, unreliable jobs, according to the organizations behind the new projects.

Enviu-CAIF initiative

Enviu, Circular Apparel Innovation Factory (CAIF) and Ikea Foundation have partnered to set the ground for building a new circular textile waste model in India that will help recover and reclaim value from textiles waste, while unlocking green jobs for the waste workers who are one of the most vulnerable and underserved communities.

Enviu and CAIF will together build capacities and skills among these waste workers and build successful circular enterprises to reclaim value from textile waste.

The Ikea Foundation is funding the initial and seeding phase of the five-year project, which will be implemented as a joint initiative of Enviu and CAIF. The five-year project has taken on the mission of creating more than 5,000 green jobs, while saving at least 20 million kilos of textiles waste from ending up in landfills by 2026.

In the first phase of the program, Enviu and CAIF will be seeking partnerships with manufacturers, brands and innovators to scale and replicate solutions to manage textiles waste, as well as NGO’s and other civil society actors to build skills and capacities for the waste workers in India.

“The Ikea Foundation has always worked toward supporting people living in underserved communities to afford a better life,” Vivek Singh, head of portfolio-employment and entrepreneurship at the Foundation, said. “There is huge potential in the textile waste sector not only to become more sustainable, but also to create better livelihoods for a large number of people at the bottom of the pyramid. We believe that green and circular entrepreneurship in India’s textile waste sector offers an opportunity for vulnerable workers to lift themselves out of poverty while protecting the planet. That’s why we are happy to be part of this initiative.”

Venkat Kotamaraju, director of CAIF, said the scale and scope of the problems being addressed by the textiles and apparel industry globally demands an active investment into setting up an ecosystem and mechanisms that will make “circularity within reach” and “de-risks the participation” of the value chain stakeholders in a circular economy.

This program “lays a strong foundation for realizing our vision for zero-leakage of textiles waste into the environment and helping decarbonize the industry’s footprint,” Kotamaraju said.

Ankie Van Wersch, CEO of Enviu said the company’s “top-down impact-driven venture building approach, combined with CAIF’s bottom-up ecosystem building among waste workers is a winning combination, maximizing impact.”

Sorting For Circularity India Project

In a separate development, Fashion for Good launched the Sorting For Circularity India Project, a consortium to understand the pre-consumer and post-consumer textile waste streams in India, and to pilot sorting and mapping solutions. The project aims to build an infrastructure toward greater circularity in the years to come.

The project brings together industry players including Fashion for Good partners Adidas, Levi Strauss & Co., PVH Corp., Arvind Limited, Birla Cellulose and Welspun India. A key technology partner for the project is Fashion for Good innovator Reverse Resources, which provides the analysis of the pre-consumer textile waste streams, in addition to designing and running the pre-consumer pilot. The project is supported through catalytic funding provided by Laudes Foundation.

Two new projects supported by the apparel and home goods industry aim to help India’s textile sector deal with its waste.

Closing the loop for post-consumer textiles.

“India is a critical hub, not only for textile production and consumption, but also as a global post-consumer textile waste destination,” Katrin Ley, managing director at Fashion for Good, said. “This project is pivotal to understanding the size of this considerable market and providing the incentive, tools and means for the industry to benefit from the wealth of this untapped resource.”

Given India’s position as a manufacturing and consumption market of textiles, it produces large streams of pre-consumer and domestic post-consumer waste. Pre-consumer waste is only partially recycled, with the remaining portion mostly downcycled to products of inferior quality, Fashion for Good noted.

Domestic post-consumer waste on the other hand is exceptionally difficult to trace, with limited data available to understand the quantities, composition and other factors key to its recycling. India is also one of the largest recipients of global post-consumer textile waste, with millions of tons of discarded textile imported and manually sorted through various hubs.

In addition to the lack of accurate information, no technologies currently exist to organize, categorize and sort materials to ensure quality textile waste is accessible for recyclers that require sorted feedstocks in large volumes.

While these are not the only challenges faced by recyclers, they are significant barriers to the growth of chemical recycling technologies in India. The Sorting for Circularity India project aims to address these challenges and build an accessible infrastructure for manufacturers, sorters, collectors, waste handlers and recyclers in India.

Over 15 months, the project will demonstrate a new textile value chain across three phases. First, by obtaining an overall understanding of the textile waste supply chain of pre-and post-consumer textile waste in India. Second, by identifying and piloting technologies that enable the traceability of textile waste and its accessibility to existing recyclers, and finally, providing recyclers with access to textile waste feedstocks that meet the quality parameters of advanced recycling technologies, giving these technologies an incentive to scale in India.

The first phase to map the current supply chain of textile waste draws on the expertise and technology of Reverse Resources. This phase also leverages the knowledge, experience and on-the-ground support of local stakeholders. One, Sattva Consulting, is a social development consulting and research firm with experience in undertaking landscape, market and community-based studies. Another, Saahas Zero Waste, is proficient in waste management with a stronghold on the informal sector in India and is supported by suppliers selected by the project industry partners that participate in the study.

The results and learnings from this phase will be shared in an open-source report available to the public, to be released in mid-2022.

“Recycling technologies are going to be the future of the industry and to get there we need access to traceable, high-quality textile waste for all waste streams,” Abhishek Bansal, head of sustainability at Arvind, said. “We will be looking at efficiently recycling traceable textile waste and help along in building a new textile waste value chain in India. This project is a great opportunity to help organize the India textile waste market, making it traceable and accessible to recyclers, manufacturers and brands.”

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