by Corina Pons and Helen Reid
BARCELONA/LONDON (Reuters) – In a warehouse on the outskirts of Barcelona, women stand on conveyor belts manually sorting T-shirts, jeans and dresses from huge bales of used clothing – discarded in Europe A small step towards tackling the big problem given fashion.
Within a year, the sorting center run by the apparel reuse and recycling charity Moda Ray plans to double the volume it handles to 40,000 metric tons annually.
“This is just the beginning,” said Albert Alberich, director of Moda Rey, which is part of the Spanish charity Caritas and runs Spain’s biggest second-hand clothing chain.
“We’re going to see old clothes from Europe being turned into raw materials for fast fashion companies.”
Partly funded by Zara-owner Inditex, Moda Ray will expand sites in Barcelona, Bilbao and Valencia, some of the first signs of a planned ramp-up in apparel sorting, processing and recycling capacity in response to an influx of new European is in Union’s proposal to curb the fashion industry.
Also in Spain, rivals including H&M, Mango and Inditex have launched a non-profit organization to manage clothing waste, responding to EU legislation requiring member states to separate textiles from other waste from January 2025. A beneficial association has been formed.
The European Commission said in July that despite such efforts, less than a quarter of Europe’s 5.2 million tonnes of clothing waste is recycled and millions of tonnes end up in landfill each year.
The 2021 EU report states that precise data on the growth of clothing waste is scarce, but that collection for recycling and reuse has gradually increased in many European countries since around 2010.
The commission said in July that fast fashion, or making and selling cheap clothes with a short lifespan, is “highly unsustainable”. It states that the textile industry is a major contributor to climate change and environmental damage.
Inditex, which said in March it marketed 10 percent more clothing items globally last year than in 2021, aims to use 40% recycled fiber in clothing by 2030 as part of sustainability goals announced in July. To do.
“The main problem we are facing is overconsumption,” said Dijana Lind, ESG analyst at Union Investments, a Frankfurt-based asset manager that holds shares in Adidas, Hugo Boss, Inditex and H&M.
Lind said she was in talks with Adidas, Hugo Boss and Inditex about the need to increase the use of recycled fabrics by those companies, and for the apparel industry as a whole, to increase textile recycling.
Hugo Boss said in a statement to Reuters that “overproduction and overconsumption, in general, is an industry-wide problem,” adding that it is using data analysis to better adjust production to demand. Had been.
Consultancy McKinsey estimated in a report last year that an investment of 6 to 7 billion euros would be needed by 2030 to build up the scale of textile waste processing and recycling. Reuters could not establish what level of investment is currently being made in the industry.
Lind said companies have already taken some steps but “more steps need to be taken.”
Inditex said it would invest 3.5 million euros in Moda Re over three years and that all of its Spanish stores would have recycling containers. It did not respond to a request for comment on suggestions it needed to do more.
In a statement to Reuters, H&M said it recognized this was “part of the problem”.
H&M said, “The way fashion is produced and consumed needs to change – that’s an undeniable truth.”
Despite initiatives such as EU action, industry sustainability commitments and the Moda Ray expansion, the barriers to significantly reducing clothing waste remain formidable.
McKinsey said in the report that meeting industry goals of recycling 2.5 million tonnes of textile waste by 2030 would require hundreds of similar plants, along with investment in technology and market intervention.
Fourteen textile recycling companies in Europe plan to increase their production capacity, according to Fashion for Good, a recycled fiber start-up investment company that surveyed 57 recyclers in a September 2022 report.
The EU has not set specific targets for recycled content in clothing, but by 2030 all textile products sold across the bloc are to be “substantially” made from recycled fibres, as well as being sustainable, repairable and reusable. Have to be
To build capacity to meet the targets, ReHubs Europe, an association founded by the apparel lobby group EURATEX, promotes investment in “fibre-to-fibre” recycling: processes that recycle used clothing to make new garments. Converts into yarn.
EURATEX did not immediately respond to a Reuters question about the level of investment it has made in the technology.
Currently less than 1% of clothing is recycled in this manner and processes are still being developed. Challenges include separating the different types of fiber into a feedstock suitable for recycling.
Since such technologies are still in their infancy, the high cost of recycled fabric compared to new fabric remains a barrier to widespread adoption.
Clothes come from more than 7,000 donation bins at the Barcelona plant, supermarkets and Zara and Mango stores. Infrared machines donated by Inditex identify the fiber make-up of fabrics to speed up manual sorting on a large scale.
Currently, about 40% of the clothing Moda Ray receives is sent to other facilities for recycling. Of that, only about a fifth is recycled fiber-to-fiber, a share that Moda Ray expects will grow to 70% in the next three to four years.
Right now, most recycling is for low-grade products like dishcloths.
About half of the clothes donated to Moda Ray are sent for resale to African countries including Cameroon, Ghana and Senegal. Moda Ray says that the clothes it exports can be reused.
According to UN trade data, the EU is set to export 1.4 million tonnes of used clothing in 2022, more than double the amount in 2000. Not all of that clothing is reused, and the export of used clothing from Europe to Africa can lead to pollution when the clothing is said by the EU cannot be resold and will eventually end up in a dump.
Proposed European Commission rules seek to crack down on unscrupulous operators who export damaged goods destined for the dump, and would require countries to demonstrate their ability to manage the material sustainably.
Moda Ray said it aims to reduce the amount of clothing it sends to Africa.
Only 8% of donations are currently sold at Moda Ray’s second-hand shops, a method widely seen as a more efficient way of reusing old clothing. The same amount ends up in European landfills.
The company aims to double resale volume over the next three years by expanding to 300 second-hand shops in Spain, up from more than 100 currently, she told Reuters.
Despite the challenges, Moda Re employees said they felt their work was positive.
“We take the discarded clothes to make new clothes,” said Aissatou Boucome, a youth worker in Senegal who feeds the clothes through a machine that cuts them into ribbons to be sent for recycling. “For me, it’s good.”
In addition to Inditex’s efforts, Puma has partnered with apparel collection and sorting companies I:CO in Germany, Texaid in Switzerland and Vestisolidale in Italy.
Adidas, Bestseller and H&M have invested in Finnish start-up Infinite Fiber Company, which makes fiber from textile waste, cardboard and paper.
The commission’s legislative effort includes rules requiring retailers to contribute to the cost of collecting used clothing for reuse and recycling.
Under the proposed rules, retailers would be charged roughly 12 euro cents per item for each garment sold in the block, with a higher rate for clothing that is harder to recycle, the commission estimated in July.
As in Spain, textile waste associations will be established in each country. In France, this system is in force since 2008 under an organization called Refashion.
Reuters asked ten major fashion companies, including Adidas, H&M and Primark, how the fees would affect their profitability. No one guessed. All told they expected fees to be uniform across the EU.
“It’s a tsunami of legislation,” said Mauro Scalia, director of sustainable businesses at EURATEX.
(Reporting by Corina Ponce in Madrid, Helen Reid in London; Additional reporting by Horaci García and Nacho Doce in Barcelona; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)