Fibre to fibre recycling: An economic & financial sustainability assessment

5th February 2019

Identification of and recommendations to overcome barriers to the development of post-consumer, closed loop clothing recycling in the UK.

Key points
The first detailed examination of the economic factors influencing fibre to fibre recycling
Will help to unlock alternatives to virgin fibres for manufacturing clothes
Supports WRAP’s work to reduce the environmental impact of clothing under SCAP2020

With global clothing consumption on the rise, and demand for raw materials expected to triple by 2050, a deficit of five million tonnes for cotton – the UK’s most commonly-used fibre – is predicted by 2020. Meanwhile, an estimated £140 million-worth of clothing is sent to landfill each year. To meet future demand for clothing, and to minimise the environmental impacts of manufacturing new clothing, there is a need for alternative sources of fibre including, potentially, recycled fibres.

Fibre to fibre recycling: An economic & financial sustainability assessment focuses on post-consumer clothing and textiles, and the potential for capturing these materials in the UK for use in fibre to fibre (F2F) recycling. It also reviews F2F recycling methods in research, development, pilot and commercialisation stages, and models the finances for both chemical and mechanical fibre2fibre recycling processes for recovering polycotton and cotton respectively.

The report identifies a series of potential barriers to F2F recycling in the UK and sets out possible measures to overome these. The barriers include:

  • Improvements in post-consumer textiles collection and sorting processes;
  • Introduction of automation to increase accuracy and decrease costs in the sorting process. Although still in development, automation may also lower garment preparation costs (removal of zippers, etc.);
  • Development and communication of feedstock specifications through collaboration between textile merchants and F2F recycling process developers;
  • Supply chain integration and work to foster demand (pull) from brands, retailers and consumers; and
  • Support for, and by, F2F recycling process developers and those in the textile merchant supply chain, in securing finance for process scale-up and commercialisation.

Further work is needed to refine economic and financial models as more data on costs and prices in the F2F recycling value chain and in F2F recycling processes is made available. The report references two models – one chemical recycling process, and one mechanical recycling system. With a greater depth of data, this modelling exercise could be expanded to reflect a wider range of techniques and systems and explore the potential for financial viability further.