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Tuesday, 4 October 2016

RESYNTEX: A New Circular Economy Concept for Textiles and Chemicals

On 14 September 2016, the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) and the European Apparel and Textile Confederation (EURATEX) organised an Experts Workshop on Textile Waste Situation & Textile Waste-to-Chemicals Scenarios. The event, held in Brussels, brought together European textile waste and chemical industry experts to discuss the current situation and trends in textile waste collection and valorisation in Europe, and to validate textile waste-to-chemicals symbiosis scenarios developed by the RESYNTEX project

RESYNTEX, a research projected funded by the European Commission’s HORIZON 2020 Programme, aims to create a new circular economy concept for the textile and chemical industries. The project started work in June 2015. Through an innovative recycling approach and industrial symbiosis, RESYNTEX will transform textile waste into secondary raw materials, creating circularity and reducing environmental impact. The project objectives and current status were presented by the project coordinator SOEX Group. RESYNTEX has 20 project partners from across 10 different EU member states, including industrial associations, businesses, SMEs and research institutes.

During the workshop (above), the experts reported that, currently, many valuable materials contained in textile products are still disposed of as waste after use, and much of the waste is sent to landfill or incinerated with high environmental impact. Not enough post-consumer textile waste is separately collected in Europe and a significant residual part of the non-reusable waste does not get recycled. The purpose of RESYNTEX is to change that reality, designing a complete value chain from textile waste collection to new feedstock for chemicals and textiles. The project aims to enable traceability of waste using data aggregation, to develop innovative business models for the chemical and textile industries, to demonstrate a complete reprocessing line for basic textile components, as well as increasing public awareness of textile waste and boosting social involvement. Participants highlighted that citizens should receive more information in order to be involved in new ways of thinking and behaving towards textile waste, with a focus on sustainability.

Textile waste
An overview of the textile waste situation in Europe was provided by EURATEX and Oakdene Hollins. First, textile waste for the purposes of RESYNTEX was defined as “non-hazardous textile waste and is focused on residual waste currently sent for landfill or incineration, after all re-usable and easily recyclable fractions have been sorted out.” This material is accessible to the project from a range of different textile waste streams: production waste, post-use industrial/professional and post-consumer textile waste. According to the Eurostat waste generation data; there is approximately one million tonnes of textile waste collected separately from households in the 28 countries of the EU every year. However, collection rates vary extremely widely across Europe from rates of 30-50% in Western and Northern Europe to virtually 0% in some Eastern European countries.

A first estimate provided by Oakdene Hollins, based on an extrapolation of data provided by nine textile sorters in different EU countries, shows a total volume of 80 000 tonnes of residual waste generated by the EU-28 sorters per year.  Out from that volume and the composition of the residual material, which consists of 60% textile fibres, the total volume of textiles that is accessible to RESYNTEX from that waste stream is 50 000 tonnes per year. More detailed information on the composition of such waste will be evaluated during the project by the partners and contacts in regional textile sorters.

An overview of the French experience on textile waste and recycling was provided by Eco TLC, a not-for-profit private company directed by a board of industrial companies that aims to tend towards 100% reuse and recycling for used clothing, household linen and footwear (TLC in French).  Every company that introduces clothing, household linen, and footwear items on the French market to sell under their own brands, must either set up its own internal collection and recycling programme or pay a contribution to Eco TLC (accredited by the French Public Authorities to manage the sector’s waste) to provide it for them. The funds collected support research and development (R&D) projects that are selected by a scientific committee to find new outlets and solutions to recycle used TLC, and are used to publicise campaigns organised by local authorities to change consumers’ waste sorting habits. Every year, 600 000 tonnes of TLC are placed on the French market; however, only 32.5 % of used TLC is collected for reuse or recycling. TLC reported that up to 7% of the collected post-consumer textile quantity is currently incinerated, partly in cement production, or even sent to landfill.

The Netherlands has a goal of increasing the collection of post-consumer textiles by 50% by 2020.Today, the waste collection is about 90 000 tonnes per year. The low quality materials and non-reusable waste are the main challenge to waste textile usage. ECAP (LIFE) and REMO were mentioned by Alcon Advies/ Texperium as good examples of projects on textile recycling initiatives.  Belgium has an exceptionally high rate of separate textile waste collection due to a dense network of containers and other collection options across the country. The new report from COBEREC shows that, in 2015, 120 000 tonnes of old clothes were recycled in Belgium equivalent to 500 million pieces. Lower quality textiles are reused as rags (20%) or their fibres are recycled (17%). And about 8% of textile post-consumer waste is not reusable. An overview of Czech Republic textile waste scenario was provided by INOTEX Ltd: only 3 000 tonnes of textile waste is separately collected per year and only 3% of all textile waste seems to be recycled at present.

Recycling business
Cefic described existing polymer recycling business practices in other segments and summarised existing initiatives, pilots, commercial activities and other major research projects in the field of textile polymer recycling. For the RESYNTEX relevant types of fibres in the textile waste, Cefic discussed the relevant market environment. Potential business models suitable for such textile/chemical symbiosis were discussed by the workshop participants, for example scenarios describing regional delocalised sorting and pre-treatment of the textile waste and transportation to central chemical conversion plants to achieve economy-of-scale.

The RESYNTEX expert workshop provided an excellent platform to exchange valuable information between the participants, and challenge and validate Textile Waste-to-Chemicals Scenarios as Circular Economy concepts. The discussions and conclusions highlighted the enormous value such future symbiosis could create for both sustainability and the economic benefit of the sectors involved and society as a whole.

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