Improving the circularity of textiles by preserving functionality – insights from a resource effectiveness perspective

Main Presenter: Alexej Parchomenko 

Co-Authors: Tom Duhoux Lise Asscherickx Veronique Van Hoof Anse Smeets Jeroen Gillabel An Vercalsteren

The production of clothing is a 1,100 billion EUR industry that consumes 98 million tons of non-renewable resources, is responsible for 20% of the global industrial water pollution, and emits more CO2-eq. than all international aviation and maritime shipping combined (EMF, 2017). Therefore, within the framework of the European Green Deal (COM, 2019), the textiles sector is mentioned together with other resource-intensive industries that will receive particular attention in the transition towards a more circular economy (CE). The fact that less than 1% of textile waste is recycled into new clothing fibers (Manshoven et al., 2019) indicates the potential for improvements as well as the challenges ahead. In this regard, it is key to understand the resource use pattern and identify hotspots of functionality loss throughout the value chain. Employing the method of Statistical Entropy Analysis (SEA) and applying it to some of the key characteristics such as the product composition, the fiber mix, fiber length, contamination by dyes and other chemicals in a system context, the study presents an evaluation of a textile-to-textile recycling case. The results for the different scenarios are benchmarked to an ideal circular system that maximally preserves functionality over time. As the employed method is based on the quantification of the changes in the distribution pattern of any type of characteristics, it is adapted for the textile case by quantifying fiber length, fiber mix, material flow composition, and contaminants. It is considered as a complementary perspective to established impact-based or economic/cost-based evaluations. By considering the time dimension, additional CE strategies, from the design of the product to resource lifetime extending strategies such as reuse and their combinations are assessed in their effectiveness to preserve functionality with minimal effort and thereby contribute to a more circular textile system.

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