Sustainable Textiles Regulations Round Table Completes First Session

PCIAW® would like to extend our thanks to all 26 members who registered for the event and to those who attended the first meeting of the Sustainable Textiles Regulations Round Table on 11/04/2024. The high level of expertise and insight shared by this cross-section of industry leaders was invaluable in kicking off our effort to develop practical recommendations for adopting circular textile practices.

The main focus of this session was investigating the current state and future potential of recycling technologies for professional clothing and uniforms. It’s clear that while no single solution fits all materials and products, a range of mechanical and chemical recycling methods are rapidly advancing to enable closed-loop recycling at commercial scales in many materials by 2035.

Mechanical recycling of monofibre garments, particularly polyester and nylon is the most mature technology today, with some contributing recyclers aiming to process over 10,000 tons annually within 5 years. Chemical recycling shows great promise for hard-worn polyester products and polycotton blends, with solvents potentially able to separate and recapture polyester in the near future. Gasification is providing an avenue for recycling challenging materials like modacrylic, while R&D aims to unlock economical processes for recycling aramids in the coming years.

There was broad agreement that moving towards monofibre synthetic garments can significantly ease recycling by reducing the need for intensive deconstruction and separating fibre blends. There was a broad agreement that professional clothing includes a lot of ‘low-hanging fruit’ that offers the opportunity for the circular economy now, as t-shirts, polos and simple uniform garments can be designed with a priority for mono-materials. It’s important that wherever possible, product developers design-out waste and think about recyclability from the start.

The group also emphasised the need for supply chain partners to collaborate closely, from conscientious design to more secure end-of-life product management. Incoming regulations like Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) will hold manufacturers and brands accountable for their product’s environmental impact through collection and recycling obligations. Working together and adopting best practices like circular materials will be key to meeting these new sustainability mandates and securing future tenders.

On the end-user side, a top concern was ensuring recyclers were handling uniforms and branded garments securely to prevent potential security breaches. Buyers shared examples of materials ending up in unknown hands, underscoring the criticality of verified, secured recycling operations.

While challenges exist around accessing capable recyclers in certain regions, the group was optimistic that the recycling landscape would rapidly evolve in the next 10 years as financial incentives, regulation and sustainability priorities become further aligned.

The engaged discussion and spirit of collaboration at this first meeting bodes well for our round table project and the industry as a whole. We will shortly be releasing a more detailed session summary including all the key takeaways from the conversation, and once all the sessions are complete we will synthesise the findings in a position paper, which will be shared across the PCIAW® network and partner organisations with the intention to represent professional clothing in policy settings.

Whilst this round table focused on recycling technologies, the next meeting is on 11/07/24 and will be on fabric and garment design, looking at the concept of ‘de-engineering products’, when it is appropriate and when it is not safe to, alongside demand and follow through on sourcing sustainable options in tenders – and of course, cost. We will also look at the recycling challenges of garments, not just from a technology standpoint but a use one – too much wear, contamination and security challenges – which was incidentally a topic already raised in the meeting.

We look forward to continuing this vital discussion and charting a clear path to sustainable, circular practices for our industry. If you would like to participate in this round table, you can still sign up in time for the next meeting through the link below.

PCIAW Uniform Networks Buyer, Trusted member