Closing the Loop by 2030: Mission Possible

The crucial technologies needed for a closed-loop textile industry have been available for a long time. Instead of each one of us taking individual steps, we should now join forces to establish a goal for the future and set a reverse plan in motion.

We should actually be proud. Only a few years ago, the term “sustainability” was more or less viewed by the textile industry as an annoying foreign word uttered by a few fanatics. This term is meanwhile widely viewed as a key aspect of the future, right up there with digitalization. Hardly a week goes by without one of the major brands admitting its responsibility and announcing the next milestone toward the goal of sustainability in the form of a voluntary commitment.

But we also have to confess that this issue was well overdue and that we have held a lot of cards in our hands for a long time already. While other industries have at least taken steps to work on the most obvious performance indicators in order to make continuous improvements, until recently our industry has simply ignored the urgent need for significantly more sustainable behavior. For years now, information such as electronic device power consumption or vehicle fuel consumption has served as an important and transparent purchase decision parameter. In contrast, key environmental indicators tied to manufacturing processes in the clothing industry barely register on a strategic radar, and are often not available in any significant detail.

It will take a joint effort

However, being late in the game has its advantages since a wide range of technologies that we need to address this issue have matured and can now be rapidly integrated. As a result, a voluntary commitment to using recycled synthetics to produce new polyester fibers has nothing to do with an extensive development effort, rather it merely requires an adequate management decision. The corresponding supply chain has been in place for a long time. And as the requirements grow it will provide the corresponding quantities at affordable costs provided we collectively demand it.

It’s thus time to band together to send a signal and establish the concrete objective: the creation of a fully closed textile loop. We have an excellent collection system – at least here in Europe – that still sends a minimum of 25 percent of the collected material to incinerators because it can’t be used. We possess diverse technologies capable of recycling key synthetic fibers such as polyester. And we have long had the option to develop attractive, high-performance apparel for end customers using a “design-to-circularity” approach. In other words, how quickly we implement a closed-loop economy all boils down to a question of willpower.

Sympatex, the undisputed pioneer in the field of sustainable functional textiles, decided to take this step during the 2019 Copenhagen Fashion Summit and raise the bar to new heights. Based on its experience with the wear2wear consortium and collaboration with the French government recycling project FRIVEP, Sympatex is planning in the coming year to offer the first functional laminate made from textiles acquired through a circular economy.

By 2024, the company is aiming to manufacture at least 50 percent of its laminates from recycled materials, a goal that it plans to achieve with the help of its most recent investment as a Pioneer Partner Member of Worn Again Technologies, which has begun to implement its patented process for recycling blended cotton/polyester fabrics on an industrial scale. And Sympatex is striving to reach 100 percent circularity with its textiles by 2030.

The time has come for us to view sustainability as more than just something to spice up our otherwise static daily business activities, and instead work together to take the bold step of committing to completely closing the textile loop by 2030. Once we reach this agreement, we can then work backwards to flesh out the development details, determine which processes must be coordinated anew and decide which milestones have to be reached and when. This would send an important signal to our supply chain, which would then be in a reliable position to chart the necessary course.

We should put our collective energies to work. In light of the constantly growing scrap heaps caused by over 100 billion new pieces of apparel produced each year, there is no alternative path. And considering this circular path transforms waste back into raw materials, it has the additional benefit of offering enormous financial potential considering the rising prices for raw materials.

SympaTex
melanie.haas@norragency.com