Fashion for Good today launches the Full Circle Textiles Project – Polyester, with the ambition to validate and scale promising technologies in polyester chemical recycling and to encourage financing and offtake commitments in the fashion industry. Polyester claims 52% of the global fibre market. As the most common fibre in the world, it also represents a significant portion of the 73% of textiles that are landfilled or incinerated annually. A synthetic fibre derived from petroleum, polyester does not naturally break down in the environment, and the production of virgin fibres also perpetuates our reliance on fossil fuels. Chemical recycling is a key solution that promises to address the polyester textile waste challenge.
“Textile recycling is a key focus for Fashion for Good. With the success of the first Full Circle Textiles Project, and proof that a galvanised consortium of stakeholders from across the industry can truly shift the needle, we can now turn our attention to applying these learnings and steps to scale to another critical area; textile-to-textile polyester recycling.” – Katrin Ley – Managing Director, Fashion for Good
A streamlined ecosystem for innovation
The Full Circle Textiles Project – Polyester brings together a consortium of stakeholders including brands, innovators, supply chain partners and catalytic funders – a structure that has proven successful in driving and scaling disruptive innovation in the industry.
The project, initiated and managed by Fashion for Good is made possible by a large group of Fashion for Good partners, contributing their expertise, financial support and services. These include catalytic funder Laudes Foundation, brand partners adidas, BESTSELLER, C&A, PVH Corp., Target and Zalando, and affiliate partners Arvind Limited, Fabrics Division of W. L. Gore & Associates and Teijin Frontier, who have recently joined Fashion for Good.
“A future without fossil fuels in fashion will need us to scale disruptive innovations such as chemical recycling to replace polyester. We’re pleased to continue supporting the industry’s efforts through the Full Circles Textiles Project, with chemically recycled polyester. Our funding allows actors across the supply chain to come together and test these path-breaking solutions, and we eagerly await the results of this phase of the project.” – Anita Chester, Head of Materials at Laudes Foundation
Validating and scaling promising innovations
To attain a clear idea of the innovations best positioned to address the challenges of recycling polyester textiles, Fashion for Good has enlisted promising innovators in polyester chemical recycling from around the world to participate in the project. These include CuRe Technology, Garbo, gr3n and PerPETual who over the course of the 18-month project will be producing chemically recycled polyester for eventual use in fabric and garment production from post-consumer textile waste. The innovator output will be assessed and validated by participating Fashion for Good brand and supply chain partners.
The project aims to validate the technologies and the scaling potential; prompting further implementation/offtake agreements to drive chemical recycling in the industry and mobilise more funding into the technology.
“Chemical recycling can make fibre-to-fibre recycling a reality and this is a critical step towards reaching BESTSELLER’s ultimate ambition of becoming circular by design. By limiting the use of virgin materials, recycled polyester will dramatically lower the environmental impact of polyester at the same time as we reduce our reliance on virgin petroleum as a raw material.” – Camilla Skjønning Jørgensen, Sustainable Materials & Innovation Manager at BESTSELLER
The potential of chemical recycling
Textile recycling is a crucial lever in driving the fashion industry towards closed-loop production and reducing the environmental impact of textile waste. It also has the potential to eliminate the industry’s dependence on virgin raw materials.
Chemical recycling can recycle textile waste into virgin-quality output and can address a wider range of textiles types, providing huge potential to close the loop on textile waste. A relatively nascent area of innovation, textile-to-textile chemical recycling faces significant barriers to scale; including a lack of financing for new technologies, limited brand offtake, and limited and expensive output that competes with cheaper, virgin options.
“At C&A, we see textile-to-textile recycling solutions such as chemically recycled polyester as a key enabler to closing the material loop and reducing virgin resource consumption. This project will help us all in understanding the barriers, impacts and opportunities in the chemical recycling of polyester and is an important foundation to C&A’s commitment to connect principles of circularity to 7 out of 10 of our products by 2028.” – Martha Willis, Senior Manager Sustainable Materials and Circular Innovation at C&A
Building on past successes
The Full Circle Textiles Project – Polyester builds on the framework and lessons of the Full Circle Textiles Project, launched in September 2020, which focused on investigating economically viable and scalable solutions for cellulosic chemical recycling and to produce new man-made cellulosic fibres and eventual garments from cotton and cotton-blend textile waste. Having successfully accomplished this objective, the Full Circle Textiles Project further validates the benefit of the consortium structure in scaling disruptive innovation in the industry, and the capability of chemical recycling to accelerate circularity.
“At Zalando, our aim is to drive customer behaviour change towards circular products and experiences. Currently, only 1% of clothing material is looped back into clothing production. By learning the challenges with textile-to-textile polyester recycling and supporting the most promising solutions, we can help to close the loop by designing out waste and pollution” – Laura Coppen, Head of Circularity at Zalando
The four selected innovators, Circ, EVRNU, Infinited Fiber Company and Renewcell, were able to validate their disruptive technologies and produce garments for brand partners PVH Corp. and Kering Group to their quality specifications. The next phase of the project focuses on scaling these solutions and encourages brands, innovators and supply chain partners to collaborate in creating long-term partnerships, catalyse funding to enable scaling, and leverage industry expertise to further develop and implement these technologies.
“The demand for recycled yarns has been clearly rocketing. Especially these days, recycling is not enough, but we need technologies and stories to actually reduce the impact on the environment. This project aims to earnestly reuse textile waste from the apparel industry, not from the beverage industry, by innovative recycling technologies. We’re confident that this project will essentially reduce our environmental impact and give us a better responsibility for our planet.” – Yukihiro Shigemura, General Manager, Technology & Production Division at Teijin Frontier
To further support the development of the infrastructure necessary to scale textile recycling, Fashion for Good initiated the Sorting for Circularity Project and Sorting for Circularity India Project – industry-wide, precompetitive projects that aim to create a greater link between textile sorters and textile recyclers, stimulating a recycling market for unwanted textiles.
“Like most brands in the industry, PET is a key fibre for our business, and we recognise the need to understand and invest in future recycling capabilities with a view to lowering resource consumption. For us, this project represents an opportunity to answer some key questions about the future of circularity – how can chemical recycling help us increase availability of rPET, what is the true footprint of those materials and what are the key constraints, all so that we can be sure we’re designing our products responsibly, with the total lifecycle impact in mind” – Craig Lindemann, Sustainability Technologist, Gore Fabrics Division
Read more about the Full Circle Textiles Project’s outcomes and learnings here.
Image: Synthetic Yarn. Credit: Presstigieux