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Is the key to a circular textile industry a holistic approach?

Chloe Burney
27 March 2024

The EU-funded New Cotton Project has completed its three-and-a-half-year innovation programme, marking the successful implementation of a circular value chain and revealing teachable insights to create a fully circular textile economy.

The New Cotton Project launched in October 2020 to find out how to implement a circular value chain for commercial garment production.

Throughout the project, the consortium worked to collect and sort end-of-life textiles. By using "pioneering" Infinna Fiber technology, these textiles were then regenerated into a new man-made cellulosic fibre called Infinna, which looks and feels just like virgin cotton. The fibres were then spun into yarns and manufactured into different types of fabric, which were designed, produced, and sold by Adidas and H&M.

The consortium’s key findings 

Wide-scale adoption is critical to success: Textile circularity requires new forms of collaboration with a holistic approach. Previously disconnected industries and sectors must work together. These include textile and fashion, waste collection, and sorting and recycling industries, as well as digital technology, research organisations and policymakers.

Circularity starts with the design process: Keeping end-of-life scenarios in mind when creating new styles is essential, as this dictates what embellishments, prints and accessories can be used.

The need to build a scalable sorting and recycling infrastructureTo scale up circular garment production, there is a need for technological innovation and infrastructure development in end-of-use textile collection, sorting, and the mechanical pre-processing of feedstock.

Improving quality and amount of dataThere is still a significant lack of available data to support the shift towards a circular textiles industry and many are contradictory. Textile-to-textile recyclers would benefit from better availability of more reliable data. 

The need for continuous research across the value chain: Incorporating Infinna fibre offers a more sustainable alternative to traditional cotton and viscose fabrics, which could have significant implications for the textile industry. However, the project also demonstrated that the scaling of fibre-to-fibre recycling will continue to require ongoing research. For example, there is a need for development around sorting systems.

Citizen engagement: An Adidas consumer survey revealed that there is still confusion around circularity in textiles, which has highlighted the importance of effective citizen communication and engagement activities.

Cohesive legislationLegislation is a powerful tool for driving the adoption of more sustainable and circular practices in the textile industry. With several pieces of incoming legislation in the EU alone, the need for a cohesive and harmonised approach is essential to the successful implementation of policy within the textile industry.

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