The environmental impact of reusing textiles is 70 times lower, even when accounting for global exports for reuse, including transport emissions.
More specifically, the study revealed that a massive 3 kg of CO2 is saved for each high/medium-quality clothing that is reused. While only a mere 0.01% of the water used to produce new clothing is required for reuse. These results come on the back of the EU launching its Strategy for Sustainable Textiles just a few months ago and requirements for Member States to start collecting textiles separately by 2025.
While the study confirms waste hierarchy assumptions on the environmental benefits of reuse over recycling, in the case of low-quality clothing, typically entirely composed of polyester, recycling also has comparative environmental benefits when consumers are less likely to purchase second-hand clothing.
“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 envisage a circular textile value chain where every piece of clothing is reused in an optimal way and/or recycled,” says Mariska Boer, President of EuRIC Textiles. “This study endorses the environmental benefits of a global market for textile reuse and recycling’s potential to tackle the rising amounts of low-quality and non-reusable clothing,” she added.
The study also emphasised recommendations to policymakers, calling for initiatives that accelerate investments in state-of-the-art textile recycling facilities globally. In particular, innovation in fibre-to-fibre recycling will be key to keep textile fibres in the loop, as volumes of non-reusable clothing are set to increase dramatically. The study also notes the importance of eco-design criteria that enhance the lifespan of clothing before there is a need for recycling, as well as rules that mandate detailed sorting of high/medium-quality and low-quality textiles.