Report: Decouple synthetic materials from fossil fuels to meet climate targets

Rapid divestment from new fossil fuel extraction for synthetic materials will be critical to meeting climate targets, states Textile Exchange report.

A new report from the global non-profit Textile Exchange is calling on the fashion, textile, and apparel industry to eliminate the use of new virgin, fossil fuel-derived synthetic materials, equipping brands with information about how to do so.

The Future of Synthetics states that it will be critical for the industry to stop bringing new virgin fossil fuel-derived materials into the supply chain if it is to cut the greenhouse gas emissions currently associated with synthetic fibers and meet its climate targets.

Synthetic materials have dominated global fiber production since the mid-1990s. Polyester alone contributed the highest amount of GHG emissions of any single fiber in 2022, with 47 million tonnes of fiber responsible for an estimated 125 million tonnes of CO2e.

However, a total shift away from synthetics to land-based raw materials – particularly at current production rates – could lead to an overreliance on and depletion of natural ecosystems. Additionally, the industry must find ways to repurpose existing synthetic textile waste, acknowledging the energy and emissions spent making these materials.

Recognizing these realities, Textile Exchange advocates for a dual approach: identifying and investing in alternative ways to create synthetic materials using recycled or sustainably sourced renewable feedstocks, while also reducing the volume of new materials produced overall.

Call for closed-loop, textile-to-textile recycling

Today, the mechanical recycling of PET plastic bottles is the most common alternative to virgin polyester. However, one of the report’s key messages is the need to invest in scaling textile-to-textile recycling technologies for synthetics to create a truly closed-loop system, rather than relying on feedstocks from another industry.

Beth Jensen, Senior Director of Climate and Nature Impact at Textile Exchange said: “The industry must take responsibility for the textile waste it has created and do its part to build a truly circular system for the future. To do this, it will need to reduce the overall volume of new materials being extracted and produced, and where synthetic materials are used, ensure that new fossil fuel-derived feedstocks are not entering the supply chain.”

In addition to textile-to-textile recycling, the report looks at the more nascent opportunities associated with biosynthetics and carbon capture technologies, and their potential to help brands divest from fossil fuel extraction.

With The Future of Synthetics, Textile Exchange is advocating for increased interest and investment into the technologies that will facilitate the rapid substitution of fossil fuel-derived synthetic materials. A core recognition is that having viable alternatives available will enable the industry to realistically divest, unlocking this critical emissions reduction opportunity.

 

About Textile Exchange

Textile Exchange is a global non-profit driving beneficial impact on climate and nature across the fashion, apparel and textile industry. It guides a growing community of brands, manufacturers, and farmers towards more purposeful production from the very start of the supply chain.

Its goal is to help the industry to achieve a 45% reduction in the emissions that come from producing fibers and raw materials by 2030. To get there, it is keeping its focus holistic and interconnected, accelerating the adoption of practices that improve the state of our water, soil health, and biodiversity too.

For real change to happen, everyone needs a clear path to beneficial impact. That’s why Textile Exchange believes that approachable, step-by-step instruction paired with collective action can change the system to make preferred materials and fibers an accessible default, mobilizing leaders through attainable strategies, proven solutions and a driven community.

To learn more, visit textileexchange.org

Images: Joya Berrow / Textile Exchange

SUSTON
jonathan.eidse@norragency.com


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