A life-cycle assessment has confirmed the significant carbon dioxide and water savings from reusing second-hand textiles, compared with producing new clothing, the European Recycling Industries Confederation’s (EuRIC) textiles branch has said.
Its research showed the environmental impact of reusing textiles is 70 times lower, even accounting for global exports for reuse, including transport emissions.
EuRIC found 3kg of CO2 is saved for each high/medium-quality piece of clothing reused and only 0.01% of the water used to produce new clothing is required for reuse.
Mariska Boer, president of EuRIC, said: “Regrettably, around 62% of used clothing and textiles end up in household waste meaning valuable textiles are likely to be incinerated or landfilled.
“The European textile reuse and recycling industry envisages a circular textile value chain where every piece of clothing is reused in an optimal way and/or recycled.”
Boer said the study demonstrated the environmental benefits of a global market for textile reuse and recycling with the potential to tackle the rising amounts of low-quality and non-reusable clothing.
The findings confirmed the environmental benefits of reuse over recycling, said EuRIC, with the exception of low-quality clothing – typically polyester – for which recycling had environmental benefits as consumers were unlikely to purchase second-hand clothing.
Alan Wheeler, chief executive of the Textile Recycling Association, said: “This research demonstrates just how important it is to re-use clothes and extend the life of garments.
“We know that the global used clothing industry is the most sustainable part of the clothing supply chain by a considerable order of magnitude, producing major environmental benefits including a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.”
Wheeler said the used clothing industry also provided employment and business opportunities for tens of millions of people around the world, which was often overlooked by policy makers.
“The report also highlights that recycling textiles produces significant environmental benefits and that there is a clear need for Governmental and industry priorities to instil the waste hierarchy, with re-use and longevity firmly at the top (wherever that happens in the world) and recycling of worn out textile items the next priority,” he added.
Meanwhile, Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) has warned that efforts by the fashion industry to create more sustainable products could actually cause a greater impact on the environment than the current ‘fast fashion’ approach.
While the rapid purchase and disposal of garments was “one of the main drivers of overconsumption, resource depletion and social exploitation”, said ZWE, it argued that overproduction remained an underlying problem.
“[G]iven the additional resources that are often required to produce quality and lasting products, the efforts of the sector to move towards sustainable production could paradoxically lead to a higher environmental impact if the model continues to be based on overproduction,” said ZWE.
The group called for more research into the costs and benefits of a transition to a zero waste business model and the impact of fast fashion on biodiversity decline.
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