Recycling textiles

Recycling textiles

{ & Other Stories made their recycling campaign fit into the brand’s image perfectly – this is recycling made elegant and cool }

You know that old sweater you’ve had for years that has holes in it, or that dress that doesn’t really fit anymore or that top where the colour is looking a bit too washed out and that you’ve been meaning to throw away for ages?!


Because most textiles are entirely recyclable! Yet the amount of textiles that goes to waste is heart breaking. In 2013, it was reported that 75 % of the 5,8 million tons of textile waste in Europe was either incinerated or simply sent to landfills. I agree that a lot of countries aren’t doing anything to help the textile recycling process, by either educating people or by making recycling easier, but thanks to companies such as M&S and H&M (this is where the big fast fashion companies have really helped push change in the right direction), there are a lot of things you can do as a consumer to prevent textile waste end up in landfills. Let me tell you a bit about the recycling process, why recycling ought to be a bigger part of our fashion system, and what you should (in my opinion) do the next time you have a garment you no longer love.

The recycling process

The recycling of textiles is primarily a mechanical process: the cloth is first pulled apart by cylinders with projecting teeth. The fibres are then collected into funnels for storage until the next processing stage, called garneting, which both pulls and combs the fibres to prepare them for spinning. While this technique is effective, it breaks the fibres, resulting in lower-quality yarns. Synthetic fibres, such as polyester and nylon, can be broken down chemically – a process that is more energy-intensive than mechanical recycling, but does result in higher-grade yarns.

The benefits to recycling textiles are numerous, I’ve already talked a bit about how it will reduce landfill waste, additionally, textile recycling is a relatively low-impact process. Many recycled fibres are not re-dyed, or at least they use less dye than new fibres, and thus chemical and water waste are lessened. With the exception of chemically recycled fibres, the process also uses significantly less energy than what is necessary to produce new fabrics.

Challenges to the contemporary fashion system

There are two distinct types of textile waste; pre-consumer waste and post-consumer waste. Pre-consumer waste often comes from factories producing the fabric and can be either up-cycled into new garments or it can be recycled into new fabric. Post-consumer waste on the other hand, is quite a challenge to our current fashion system as the cost of new clothing has plummeted in recent years and the cost of recycling textiles can thus seem high. Furthermore, there seems to be a disbelief in the quality of recycled fabrics in comparison to virgin materials.

What you can do?

So the next time you have a garment you no longer love, instead of throwing it in the bin (or giving it to charity, which I’m all for) hand your it in at your local M&S, H&M or & Other Stories (if you know of other recycling programmes, please let me know!), and they will take care of the rest for you. You’ll even get a discount on your next purchase, and who knows, your old clothes might just end up being recycled into a new garment you’ll love. Trust that recycled textiles can be of just as good quality as virgin materials and help push change.

Source: “Sustainable Fashion: Past, Present and Future” by Jennifer Farley Gordon & Colleen Hill

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