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end of life

Not to be dramatic, but the total quantity of fashion waste is estimated to reach 148 million tons in 2030.


Sadly the majority of clothing waste is incinerated or ends up in landfills in the Global South. Neither is a good solution. In the latter, natural fibres take hundreds of years to decompose and release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and synthetic materials are not designed to decompose at all and may release toxic substances. We clearly need better solutions for the end of the life of garments.


Today we know that poly-based clothing isn't as convenient as we initially thought. Synthetics leave traces of shedded microfibres that pollute the environment when they’re released. In fact, research suggests at least 14 million tonnes of microplastics (in which fashion contributes to) have accumulated on the ocean floor which affects marine life that support the health of our planet and ourselves. 


By some estimates, there are more pieces of plastic floating in the oceans than there are stars in our galaxy. Even that celestial visual offers a surface-level glimpse into the full scale and complexity of the issue.


Our over-reliance on fossil fuels for clothing production, specifically, creates a throw away culture of low-quality items that do not decompose and create a waste problem that ends up being shipped overseas to countries without the proper resources to manage the waste and adding to brands’ negative environmental impact.


What if there was no need to end the life of a garment at all? The concept of durability looks at eliminating waste by making items that last much longer, which can be achieved by using resistant materials, not applying processes that destroy the fibres, and reducing the amount of times a garment has to be washed.


Durability is often measured as the number of times a garment can resist a certain type of test, that measures values such as abrasion, tensile and th strength, burst strength, stretch and recovery, perspiration tests, croaking, colour resistance to lights and washes, and staining. Garments that don’t look the same after a few washes are definitely not durable! 


What if you get bored of a style, or clothing items don’t seem to fit anymore? Depop, ThredUp, Vinted, Ebay, second hand stores, and many more models are great solutions to allow people to exchange clothes. These systems need strong garments that can be shipped, exchanged, worn, washed, and resold, which ties back to the concept of durability and goes into designing for circularity.

Design for Circularity


Circularity is a concept which completely eliminates the concept of waste, both in terms of materials and value. Basically the end of life of a garment becomes the beginning of something else.


We have a huge respect for designers who are doing all they can to design the best garments they possibly can because as we've heard before, 80% of the impact of a garment comes from the design stage! But, not all designers have the knowledge to produce circular apparel and textiles.


How are circular apparel items actually different?


+ All trims should be removed entirely or reduced to a minimum as they are hard for recyclers to remove and are usually cut off and subsequently landfilled or incinerated


+ All must have recyclable materials which can be kept in use once a product and its components can no longer be reused or repaired. Natural materials are best suited for this. 


+ Items should be of mono material meaning a singular raw material.


+ No hazardous chemicals should be used in the manufacture of the apparel as they can cause allergic reactions and respiratory diseases etc. in the garment workers and consumers. You can learn more about it here.


+ Take back schemes must be in place for consumers to return their items, that are then either resold or upcycled by the brand. The brand must also avoid promoting consumption and have the proper reverse logistics in place to send pieces that cannot be resold or upcycled to garment recyclers.


A good certification to look for is: + C2C (Cradle2Cradle)


When designing for longevity, durability, and reparability, the aim is to extend the use of a garment. On the other hand, when designing for disassembly or recyclability, the aim is to ensure that products and materials return to the system and can be regenerated through a biological or technical cycle. But, in order to cycle products successfully, we need to know EVERYthing that went into making it. Traceable supply chains and materials make this much easier to do so.

Recycling Into New Yarn And Fabric


The best solution is to keep clothing being used as clothing, ideally forever. Brands like Atelier and Repair or Bengabelknits have taken fashionable repairs to the next level, however sometimes there is no hope for your clothes to be used any further, as they could be too torn or stained. That is when recycling comes into place. It conserves natural resources and reduces the need for landfill space. So, what are the options?


+ Mechanical recycling of synthetics means that fibres are shredded mechanically. Once cleaned, the polyester materials are shredded into small pieces. This increases the surface area and prepares the material for further processing. The shredded pieces are then heated and melted. The melting process transforms the solid polyester into a molten form, which can be easily moulded into new products. The molten polyester is extruded through a die to form fibres or pellets, depending on the intended use of the recycled material. This step determines the shape and size of the final recycled product. After extrusion, the material is cooled and solidified. This stabilises the polyester, ensuring it retains its new form. 


+ Chemical recycling of synthetics is a huge area of research, examples of companies doing this are Ambercycle and Loop. The sorted polyester materials are cleaned and sometimes shredded into smaller pieces. This step is crucial to ensure the chemical processes work effectively. The polyester is then subjected to various chemicals that break it down into its basic components, primarily monomers like ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid. There are a few common chemical recycling methods:


  • Glycolysis: This method involves using glycols to degrade the polyester to its monomers.

  • Hydrolysis: Water is used in this process to break down the polyester into monomers.

  • Methanolysis: Methanol is employed to convert polyester into dimethyl terephthalate and ethylene glycol.


The resulting monomers are purified to remove any impurities and residues. This step is essential for ensuring the quality of the recycled product. Once purified, the monomers can be polymerized to create new polyester. This step essentially reverses the initial production process of polyester, allowing for the creation of virgin-quality material.


+ Separating Plastic based fibres from Synthetics is nearly impossible to recycle into new yarns, because the quality of the plastic is reduced too much through the processing. There are a few startups looking into this, but the scale is extremely small, and it’s still too cheap to produce virgin plastic. Circ recycles discarded clothing to produce the basis of petroleum- and plant-based fabrics. Circ’s virgin-equivalent, market-grade dissolving pulp and petroleum monomers can be sold at the same cost as virgin materials to manufacturers who make fibres. 


Recycling Into Non-Fabric


Surely there must be a solution to the problem of fabric waste. Is there no other industry that would be happy to collaborate? The construction industry is always looking for large volumes of cheap materials right? Downcycling is a concept which describes how a material loses its value through a recycling process, and is repurposed as a lower quality item. This is often the case for textile waste reused in construction, mostly as an insulating material to fill walls. Textile waste is also used to fill mattresses and make rugs, however they are considered low quality items.


(Slightly off topic) Have you ever heard of Precious Plastics? It is a wonderful initiative which is present in lots of countries around the world, based on open source information on how to recycle plastic through shredding, heating, pressing or moulding. What if the same was done for fabric waste?


What if we used fabric waste instead of other materials that have a high impact? Check out two amazing projects that turn fabric waste into tiles and furniture:


+ Fab-Brick

+ Stelapop


+ Nazena

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