What impacts one commodity generally affects them all, says Adam Minter, author of the books “Secondhand” and “Junkyard Planet”. Born in Minneapolis to a family with longstanding roots in the recycling industry, Minter’s life changed in 2002 when he began a series of groundbreaking investigative pieces on China’s emerging recycling industries for Scrap magazine and, later, Recycling International.

Minter and Jose Gonzalez, senior principal at business consulting firm AFRY, will speak about trends in textiles recycling at an upcoming ISRI webinar. The webinar, Trends and Outlook for the Textile Recycling Industry, will run from 2 to 3 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, May 4. Register here.

“There is no global market price for textiles and the data is even more unreliable than electronics,” Minter says. “Also, if anyone claims to know the carbon impact, [of textiles recycling] they’re lying.” He plans to speak on topics including the challenges unique to recycling wool.

“In terms of postconsumer textile waste, globally only 1 percent of textiles are subjected to closed-loop recycling,” Gonzalez states. With more than 20 years’ experience in business analysis and strategic direction for packaging, hygiene, paper- and fiber-based companies, Gonzalez says awareness of recycling collection points and blended materials used in fabrics partly explain why postconsumer recycling percentages don’t match the 70 percent recycling rate of industrial textiles—even though exact percentages are hard to come by.

In addition to some of the difficulties of textile recycling like fiber loss during collection, competition for recycled polyester, and technological challenges in fiber-to-fiber recycling, the webinar will address opportunities for reused materials, including trays, furniture, and acoustic panels or yoga mats.

Australia, China, and the EU are developing strategies to incentivize textile recycling in their circular economies. The European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan will be a key driver in encouraging circular economy in Europe in the coming years. According to the Waste Frame Directive, EU member countries will be obliged to arrange to separate the collection of textile wastes from 2025 and the guidelines are under development.

The U.S. has no national strategy. “There are state-level discussions on how to solve the textile waste problem,” Gonzalez explains. “Also of importance are brand-owner targets responding to consumer demand for sustainability, which will also contribute to textile recycling. He adds that recycling chains, from the collection of textiles to delivery of controlled-quality raw material, must be built to support emerging chemical and mechanical recycling technologies.

Bret Biggers, ISRI’s senior economist, will moderate the discussion on May 4. “Any revision in the whole value chain which moves this industry toward a sustainable and environmentally friendly one is invaluable,” he says.

The textile recycling industry’s total annual economic impact in the U.S. is $1.15 billion. Approximately 30 percent of recovered textiles in the U.S. are processed into wiping and polishing cloths. About 20 percent of recovered textiles are converted into fiber for use in products ranging from stationery and mattresses to roofing and flooring materials. About 45 percent of the textiles recovered are secondhand clothing, which are typically exported to developing nations.

Photo courtesy of Storybooks.

Dan Hockensmith

Dan Hockensmith

I'm a native Ohioan who since 2014 has called Maryland home. My background includes print, broadcast, and digital journalism; government contracting; and marketing communications.