Recycling is a buzzword that is often used in the fashion industry to market products as being more sustainable. It gives us a sense of a circular economy, using fewer raw materials and producing less waste. But how does fashion recycling actually work in practice? How much clothing is recycled each year, and is recycling a solution to the climate crisis? At SANVT, we aim to provide some answers.
"New from old": fashion recycling is a popular attempt to make the clothing industry more sustainable. While many people are still trying to use green energy, reduce their heating, and avoid flying, the true climate sins are in what we eat and what we wear. For example, did you know that the clothing and textile industries are responsible for more emissions than the aviation and shipping industries combined? More than 5% of global emissions are used just for new clothes, and this trend is increasing.
According to surveys and statistics, German consumers buy an average of 60 pieces of clothing per year – 40% of which is never or rarely worn, according to the German Federal Ministry for the Environment. This is due to the fast fashion business model, in which major corporations launch new collections almost weekly, tempting consumers to visit more often and shop more frequently at low prices. Online shopping has further increased our consumption. As a result, many of us buy carelessly and far more than we can actually wear. According to an estimate by the specialist journal "Nature Climate Change" from January 2018, the resource consumption of the fashion industry is expected to triple by 2050 compared to 2000! At the moment, 100 billion garments are already produced worldwide every year. Instead of constantly producing new clothes, wouldn't it make sense to have a circular economy of recycled materials?
It would be great if we could recycle all textiles, making fashion circular, allowing us to continue shopping without using new raw materials and without harming the environment. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different: we have all seen the disturbing images of used clothing waste piled up in the desert of San Pedro de Atacama, and we have all heard of scandals in which unsold luxury collections were burned. So, the question arises: how much of our clothing is actually recycled? According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the answer is a shocking at around 1% or less! Another 12% is "downcycled" into less valuable items such as insulation, mattress stuffing, and cloth.
There are several reasons for the low percentage of clothing that is recycled. One reason is the lack of scalable technologies for separating blended fabrics, which make up most products. To address this issue, recycling should be considered in the design process. In recent years, several promising new technologies have been developed to solve this problem. One of them is provided by the Swedish company Renewcell, which produces a material from textile waste. However, these technologies are not able to keep up with the rapidly growing fast fashion industry. Another problem is the toxic chemicals that are often used in recycling processes. Clearly, our recycling system needs to be revolutionized, and this can be accelerated by new legislation from policymakers.
Fashion recycling as a form of greenwashing
Recycling is often used as a buzzword in fashion for the purpose of greenwashing. A product is marketed as sustainable just because it contains a proportion of recycled materials – even if it is only 10% of the total material. Often, this recycled material is polyester recycled from PET bottles rather than recycled polyester textiles. So, how can we be sure that our recycled product is actually recycled?
We recommend looking for transparent and independent certifications. The Global Recycled Standard (GRS) is a voluntary certification that tracks and verifies the percentage of recycled materials in a final product. It covers the entire supply chain and addresses traceability, environmental principles, social requirements, chemical ingredients, and labeling, making fashion recycling more accountable.
Recycling at SANVT
At SANVT, we strive to maintain high sustainability standards. We aim to reduce CO2 emissions and shorten supply chains, offset production-related emissions, and dye fabrics without harmful chemicals or heavy metals. We also have closed water loops that recycle 99.9% of all wastewater generated. Not only that, we produce fairly in Portuguese family-owned factories and use 100% plastic-free packaging made from recycled paper. For every item sold, we plant a tree and support the Bergwaldprojekt e.V., a local climate protection project in Oberallgäu, through our partnership with ClimatePartner.
Our entire collection, except for our new knitted products, consists of biodegradable and natural textiles such as (organic) cotton or Lyocell. Our knitted products, including the Wool-Blend Sweater and the Wool-Blend Roll Neck Sweater, are 100% recycled and GRS certified. They are made from a blend of wool, cashmere, viscose, and polyamides, resulting in a high-quality, durable, and sustainable product that is carbon neutral and fairly produced. Find out more about what to look for in sustainable knitwear here.
Fashion recycling: the bottom line
Fashion recycling may not solve all of the problems in the fashion industry, but it is still an important issue that we should all address. This includes considering how many clothes we really need each year, what materials they are made of, and the environmental impact they have, as well as how we dispose of our old clothes. As buyers, this is the only way we can try to change the fashion industry until policymakers intervene.
Read more about our sustainability efforts here.
Recycling in Fashion - Infographic
To sum things off, here at SANVT we made a visual summary of some of the latest stats and issues around recycling in the fashion industry, and why we need more of it.