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Pressrelease | 2023-12-14
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Textile recycling must increase – but climate benefits not clear, report shows

In Europe, large amounts of clothing and textiles are discarded, and more need to be circulated and recycled. But to safeguard and maximize the climate benefits of large-scale textile recycling, several factors need to be in place, according to a study conducted by IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute as part of the Sustainable Clothing Futures project.

"An important part is to ensure that recycling systems are energy efficient and that the recycled material actually replaces new production, so that the 'textile mountain' doesn't keep growing. At present, only about one per cent of all textiles produced are made from recycled textile fibres", says Gustav Sandin Albertsson, researcher and project manager at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute.

On average, 11 kg of textiles are discarded per person per year in Europe. Much of this could be reused or recycled. In the current study, the researchers used a life cycle assessment to examine the climate impact of increasing textile-to-textile recycling in the EU from the current one per cent recycling of discarded textiles to 26 per cent by 2035. The results show that increased recycling can reduce climate impact – but to ensure this, the technology and systems need to be resource-efficient and use energy with low climate impact, and the recycled material must lead to the phasing out of the production of new textiles. The replacement rate must be around 44% or higher.

"This means that one kilogram of recycled textiles must replace at least 0.44 kilograms of newly produced textiles in order for large-scale textile recycling to reduce climate impact. To achieve this, we need to produce high-quality recycled fibres, but we must also adopt a policy that actively works to phase out primary fibre production”, says Gustav Sandin Albertsson.

The report also underlines that increased material recycling alone is not enough to solve the textile industry's climate challenge; more measures are needed. It is mainly within other environmental issues, which are more strongly linked to the production of new textile fibres, that increased material recycling can be of great importance. The production of textile fibres requires a lot of water, chemicals, raw materials and land area, which contributes to extensive environmental impacts.

"It is estimated that increased material recycling would reduce climate emissions by about 1.2 million tonnes per year, which is not much compared to the total climate footprint of textile consumption. So we need to take action in other areas, but also reduce our textile consumption significantly”, says Gustav Sandin Albertsson.

Read more in the report: Does large-scale textile recycling in Europe reduce climate impact? External link, opens in new window.

For questions, contact:
Gustav Sandin Albertsson, gustav.sandin@ivl.se, tel. +46 (0)10-788 65 45

The study is part of the Sustainable Clothing Futures Opens in new window. project, which is an interdisciplinary research project funded by Formas.

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