There’s clearly no circularity without recycling. Suston reaches out to sustainability consultant Joel Svedlund to hear the latest in the outdoor industry’s efforts to close the loop.

We already see a lot of prod­ucts made using recycled materials. So why is it necessary for industries to close their own loops rath­er than source from global supply flows?

The currently most developed and commercial­ized recycling methods generally add post-con­sumer materials into a material cycle (e.g. PET bottles into fibers), but most do not have a plan for the following product lives (e.g. when textile fibres go into the next use phase). Most of these methods downgrade the used materials and intro­duce contaminants which are then hard to get rid of in the next recycling stage.

That’s why closing one’s own loop is consid­ered a “holy grail” in terms of true circularity because it implies not degrading materials if they can be used repeatedly in the same use.

 

How close would you say the outdoor indus­try is to closing its own loop?

Generally, I would not consider the outdoor in­dustry as better or worse off than the general material streams it populates. Many trials in mate­rial choices have been made, but on a larger scale there are very few examples of existing closed-loop material streams.

In textile, the most advancement has come in polyester recycling (several chemical recycling plants are scaling up), cellulosic regenerated fibres (e.g. Re:newcell and Spinnova) and poly­amide (e.g. Hyosung’s Mipan Regen and Aquafil’s Econyl).

There are also scaled up efforts for mechanical recycling of fibers like cotton, polyester and wool, but they are not considered closed loop as they degrade material quality and require large quanti­ties of mixed-in virgin material to maintain a quality level that is acceptable for apparel.

 

What is the biggest challenge in your view, and how can this be overcome?

The biggest challenge to closing the loop is that current materials and products are not invented/ designed with circularity in mind, and there are very few incentives to do so. Things like coatings, mixed fibres and chemical content all interfere with recycled yarn quality. And to complicate matters further, there is currently very low trace­ability among products, less for materials and almost none for chemical ingredients.

This will change in the EU with the new Digital Product Passport standards, extended producer responsibility, and repairability regulations. That’s why brands and suppliers should begin investing in traceability right now, and develop knowledge about circularity. This will affect the whole com­pany in a fundamental way, so they must make sure to connect all parts of the company and keep the innovation process close to the management team to enable shared learning.

 

Recycling Case: Textile Exchange

Textile Exchange is a global non-profit organization focused on promoting sustain­ability and circularity in the textile industry.

“We are helping the textiles industry to move away from a linear model and towards a closed loop system based on textile-to-tex­tile recycling,” shares Kate Riley, Fiber & Materials Strategy Lead: Synthetics at Tex­tile Exchange.

“To the extent that new inputs are abso­lutely necessary, these will come from re­generative sources.”

To achieve this vision, Kate Riley points to three powerful tools at Textile Exchange’s disposal. The first is its 8 certifications, which embed circular practices and out­comes. The second is its Preferred Fiber and Materials (PFM) Report, which provides an overview of the sustainability performance of various preferred fibers and materials.

Finally, its “challenges” task the industry to turn the needle towards a particular goal. Textile-to-textile recycling will be key to its upcoming 2030 challenge, according to Kate Riley.

Illustration: Kicki Fjell

 

Jonathan Eidse
jonathan.eidse@norragency.com
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