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Textile sorting issues plague industry despite rising awareness about sustainability

Despite a surge in the number of brands incorporating recycled materials into their products, sorted post-consumer textiles continue to struggle to find suitable end markets that preserve their highest value. The problem is accelerating consumption and disposal practices, which are causing textiles entering the market to reach their end-of-use rapidly. Key hurdles for the market readiness and uptake of such materials include the difficulty of separating fiber blends, the available textile-to-textile recycling technologies, the potential (and incentives) for further development of these technologies and the market demand for materials containing recycled content. While the recycling sector has boomed, just one third of recyclers can process more than one material composition.

Some 60 per cent of recyclers use mechanical technologies, which require color sorting and the physical removal of trims and hardware, resulting in low financial viability and poor price parity with virgin materials. As such, recycled content from post-consumer sources remains low. Most chemical recycling still remains at the pilot scale. The lack of traceability on most textiles risks reintroducing textiles into the system that could threaten product safety due to chemical contamination.

Opportunities to scale the use of recycled textiles remain manifold as evidenced in the growth of textile-to-textile recyclers and recycling technologies.

 
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