Home Textile Recycling

Textile recycling refers to the reusing and reprocessing of clothing scraps and fibrous waste materials. Generally, these materials are recovered from discarded textiles, footwear, carpet, and other non-durable goods. Recycling offers several environmental and economic benefits, such as curbing land and water pollution, reducing dependence on virgin fibers, minimizing the usage of dye colors, and optimal consumption of water and energy.

Textiles mainly consist of fibres of a wide range of materials, either man-made fibres or natural fibre. End-of-life textiles often consist of these multi-material fibre compositions, making recycling complicated since the different types of fibres would need to be separated.

The demand for recycled textile materials is primarily driven by the increasing environmental concerns towards the depletion of raw materials, industrial discharges from textile mills, and detrimental effects of waste incineration. An average kilogram of textiles has a carbon footprint of 15 kg and a 10,000-liter water footprint. The growing production of polyester and synthetic textiles has also led to high emission levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, thereby implicating the need for recycled fabrics on a global scale.

Textile recycling: Market and current perspective

Sustainable manufacturing practices and higher recycling rates, along with increased consumer awareness, are the key tenets to support sustainable evolution and to lower the impact of the textile and apparel industry. Globalization, recycling, and consumerism have a profound effect on the present scenario of the clothing lifecycle. Recycling is aimed to reduce incineration or landfill, as well as virgin material sourcing. As per the present conditions, less than 1 percent of clothing materials are recycled into new garments. This signifies that millions of dollars worth of clothing is lost via landfills every year. Exhibit 1 provides a snapshot of textile waste as well as the recycling market.

Textile waste market

Roughly, around 90 to 95 million metric tonnes of textile waste was generated at the global level. Global economies like Europe and USA together had more than a quarter of the share in the waste generation market, however, China leads the sector by generating the highest share of textile waste by geography.

Textile recycling market

The recycling market at the global level is only around 6 to 8 million metric tonnes which is 12 to 14 percent of the waste market. It is noteworthy to mention that only 1 to 2 percent of textile waste generated was recycled by its huge consumer base like USA & Europe. The recycling industry is dominated by Europe, followed by the USA, China, and the rest of the world. Owing to a growing textile market and consumer purchase power, the recycling market is expected to grow at the rate of 3 to 5 percent in the next decade.

Key drivers for the industry to grow:

  • Brand owners shift towards sustainability due to regulations
  • Increasing high fashion index
  • Increasing social awareness programs such as – take-back, swapping, donation, etc.

Key growth inhibitors in the recycling industry:

  • The low waste collection rate
  • Underdeveloped waste sorting & recycling technologies
  • The complexity of the supply chain
  • Lack of universal waste management and legislation

The important environmental issue associated with textile scraps is the discharge of microplastics into the environment and their associated toxicity. Synthetic fabrics like polyamide, acrylic, polypropylene, and polyester are important microplastic contributors in the ocean and land. Furthermore, textile waste also contains potentially hazardous chemicals, thus raising the need to develop suitable recycling technologies and methodologies. One major solution to cope with the rising apparel waste is to develop and establish large textile-to-textile recycling.

Textile recycling methods & technologies

The landfill of large quantities of garments each year contributes to the rising greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, thus aggravating the global warming issue. Although only a meager of textiles are recycled, the existing recycling methodologies are primitive to process large amounts of apparel waste. Therefore, the need for more advanced and sophisticated technologies to process them is on a rise.

State of the art technology clusters

Broadly speaking, textile recycling can be classified into mechanical and chemical recycling. Mechanical recycling involves shredding of waste textiles to fibres, which can then be mixed with a virgin fibre, in order to compensate for the physical property deterioration during the mechanical step, for further use, whereas chemical recycling involves the usage of chemicals at certain conditions to reform the worn-out textiles into useful form (fibres, value-added chemicals or fuel components).

On the other hand, the textile recycling processes can be categorized into three types based on the degree of processing in each operation, as mentioned in Exhibit 2.


Another alternative to recycling operation is the recovery process, where the textile waste is subjected to thermal recovery by employing a recovery operation in waste-to-energy power plants. It is still being practiced; however, it is very likely to be commercialized at full scale in a few years down the lane.

Current and future recycling technologies

The future recycling methods will essentially focus on the molecular separation of the different components in the fabric by employing a combination of existing chemical recycling with fast, simple, and energy-intensive engineering that makes the process continuous and reliable. Also, the emergence of new technologies such as the internet of things will enable textile waste sorting and identification in an efficient manner, which will aid the textile recycling value chain. Exhibit 3 provides a detailed overview of future textile recycling methods.

Some of the existing/ current technologies are:

  • Advanced mechanical recycling:
    • Closed-loop mechanical recycling: It involves the disintegration of waste textiles into discrete fibres. Unlike the existing mechanical methods, it yields fibres without losing its mechanical properties, especially rigidity and strength
    • Open-loop mechanical recycling: It employs cutting fibres before subjecting them to the melt-blowing process, where it is broken down to individual fibres. After which, it is web formed and then dried to obtain the final product. it is used, for instance, to make individual pads for mattresses
  • Thermal recycling methods:
    • It aims in generating energy products like fuel or the heat itself. The three prominent technologies to be used for this purpose are hydrothermal treatment, pyrolysis, and gasification.

Some of the promising future technologies are:

  • Chemical recycling methods
    • Glycolysis: The glycolysis products from the PET waste will be used to synthesize degradable co-polyesters.
    • Ammonolysis: Being carried out in the presence of amino acids, it will be primarily used to convert nylon 6 and nylon 6,6 to other value-added chemicals
    • Hydrolysis: It is very versatile, as it can be used to process mixed fabrics like cotton, wool, and polyester. Even though it is of different types, the three main kinds which are gaining more traction in the recent days are – enzymatic hydrolysis, alkali hydrolysis, and acid hydrolysis
  • Enzymatic treatment:
    • Enzymes are biocatalysts that increase the rate of chemical reactions. Also, they are highly selective so they only act on particular substrates and produce only the desired products. For instance, cellulose which can be obtained from both fungi and bacteria category can be used in cellulose hydrolysis

Players involved in the textile recycling ecosystem

Some of the most prominent players in the textile recycling sector on a global scale are given in this section. Exhibit 4 provides an overview of various players in the market and their key figures.

  • Ambercycle: Their technology enables them to synthesize virgin grade raw materials from textile waste. This way, the need for fossil-based materials can be eliminated.
  • BlockTexx: It owns separation of fibre technology, a proprietary technology that separates polyester and cotton materials of any condition or color back into its high-value raw materials of cellulose and PET.
  • FENC: It launched the TopGreen ChemCycle Process development project, which aims to develop the chemical recycling and treatment technology to recycle only polyester textile
  • Infinited fibre: Their patented technology is used to convert cellulose-rich waste to premium-quality super fibres for the textile industry
  • Ioncell: They use a technology that can process worn-out garments by mechanically grounding it before dissolving it in an ionic liquid, and subsequent steps to generate new fabrics.
  • Lenzing: Their REFIBRA technology upcycles pre-consumer cotton and post-consumer garments to produce new Lyocell fibers.
  • Tyton Bioscience: They can convert PET, poly-cotton blends to the original fibre materials, which can be used as raw material for the new fabrics.

Many global nations, especially Europe have come up with new projects to upscale the textile recycling initiatives. Some of the most prospective projects are as follows:

  • RESYNTEX: It is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 innovation program, and the project involves the biochemical processing of waste textiles to create new polyester bottles, resins or adhesive, and value-added chemicals.
  • TEX2MAT: It is an Austrian research project aimed at developing circular economy-based recycling processes for multi-material textiles. Especially focussing on, cotton/polyester textile wastes, separated from pre-and post-consumer sources.

With the technological advancement, it is now possible for many mills to produce virgin quality textiles via mechanical recycling, without the need to blend in virgin content. Good examples are EcoSimple, a producer of a variety of patterned recycled linen and cotton fabrics, and Euromaglia, which specializes in recycled wool and cashmere. Recycle leather has developed technologies to convert leather garden gloves to different types of leather suited for valued accessories like shoes and handbags.


Fiber production is projected to rise in the future, while the lifetime of textile products is continuously declining. Without consumers’ contribution, these trends will only be aggravated. General awareness for sustainable action should be established to begin for changes in these trends. For an efficient textile waste management strategy, it is essential that textiles are collected, separately from the waste.

To reach the circular economy goals, the end-of-life textiles must be recycled in such a way that the produced fiber materials must possess similar properties to the virgin material. While this is a technically achievable strategy for single-material textile wastes, multi-material textiles are a problem for recycling purposes. These materials should therefore be circumvented and a design for recycling approach must be established in the textile and apparel industry.

Nowadays novel recycling techniques, like further development of biochemical recycling processes, chemical recycling of synthetics, combined mechanical-chemical recycling are on the rise due to the combined efforts of government legislation and high-tech companies, which are striving for innovation in this field.

Though there are some obstacles to recycling, such as ineffectual waste collection and sorting systems, low priced virgin materials in the market weakening demand for recycled materials, upcoming textile waste recycling innovations are gaining more traction in recent years and funding gaps are being bridged to speed up the scaling of these technologies in a commercial scale.


  1. Recent trends in sustainable textile waste recycling methods: current situation and future prospects
  2. Possibility routes for textile recycling technologies
  3. Breakthroughs in textile recycling technologies
  4. Life cycle assessment for reuse/recycling of donated waste textiles compared to use of virgin material: An UK energy-saving perspective
  5. Enzymatic hydrolysis of waste cellulose
  6. Acid hydrolysis of cellulose-based waste textiles
  7. Top 30 clothing and textile recycling start-ups

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