Circular Textiles Close the Loop by REvolve
Our model for closed loop textiles reduces the impact of the apparel industry and brings new opportunities to emerging markets
The apparel industry has a huge negative impact on the planet and it's people. A lot of effort is being made to develop recycling technologies which will undo the environmental damage from textile and apparel production by returning post consumer garments to the supply chain. The goal is to constantly cycle resources and do away with today’s linear system of take > make > discard.
We propose a scalable circular textile model for deployment in areas with high post consumer textile waste concentrations and the desire to build or expand a domestic textile industry. The model includes a robust supply chain and a turn-key facility that houses a system to take in waste textiles and output high quality recycled fiber with equivalent performance and similar pricing to fiber made from virgin resources.
The model incorporates existing processes as well as groundbreaking technology to define the apparel industry of the future and build a sustainable textile industry in emerging markets. Successful implementation and proliferation of the model has significant positive impact for the planet and the people on it.
We are applying to the Materials Matter contest to help fund the validation and refinement of our initial strategy and on-board key stakeholders to continue the project. Once we achieve this, we will proceed with testing, piloting, and fiber production.
What actions do you propose?
A critical part of the model is a supply chain to feed textile recycling technologies the right materials in the right volume at the right price. Without this, none of these technologies will reach commercial scale, and closing the loop will remain a pipe dream. Unfortunately, a supply chain for high yield, low cost recycling feedstocks does not exist today. It must be created.
A new circular textile supply chain will rely heavily on the second hand garment industry, because they are the actors who currently collect, sort, and redistribute nearly all of the post consumer textiles that would flow back into a circular system. We will work within this industry to re-define strategies and best practices that will enable us to collaboratively build this new supply chain. We will also work with recycling technologies to shape their expectations of the global textile waste stream and identify which of these technologies are the best fit for our pilot facility.
The bi-directional flow of information between technologies and suppliers that will happen as a part of our work will result in the standardization of textile recycling feedstock grades that will be shared for industry use. Grade standardization and the development of a global circular textile supply chain will pour a strong foundation to support a wide range of recycling technologies who wish to plug into a closed loop system well into the future.
Circular textile model refinement and stakeholder engagement
- Connect with and survey actors within the second hand garment industry, recycling technologies, government organizations, potential project execution team members, and investors
- NOTE: These conversations have been taking place over the past 6 months. Next steps are to reconnect with potential stakeholders, note changes to existing data, and reach out to a wider range of contacts to ensure the collection of a robust cross-section of perspectives and data across stakeholder groups.
- Set goals, clarify expectations, refine initial model, and identify a location for the pilot facility
- Choose and onboard key stakeholders at the end of this phase
New supply chain development
- Engage second hand garment and recycling technology stakeholders to define needs; roles; and initial feedstock specs, volume, and pricing
- Engage government stakeholders to define import / export considerations, infrastructure development requirements, and resources available for investment
- Collaboratively define framework for new supply chain
- Cultivate relationships, test assumptions, and refine framework
Proof of concept testing and process development
- Feedstock generation trials begin
- Test initial feedstocks
- Complete cost and yield analysis
- Define first generation recycling feedstock grades
- Identify recycling technologies for pilot facility
Activate new supply chain in pilot facility region
- Implement new supply chain framework in the area surrounding the pilot facility
- Onboard initial partners in pilot facility supplier network
- Collaborate with stakeholders to refine supply chain
Open pilot facility
- Test and refine materials acquisition and handling processes
- Cost and yield analysis will be ongoing throughout this phase
- Refine relationships and onboard suppliers
- Create testing feedstocks within the facility
- Engage global textile supply chain
Integrate textile to textile recycling technology at pilot facility
- Launch recycling process at testing capacity
- Cost and yield analysis will be ongoing throughout this phase
- Refine model and processes to meet minimum KPIs
- Enter textile supply chain at low volume
- Complete performance analysis set benchmarks
- Prepare to scale up
Begin production of high quality recycled fiber
- Scale up to minimum capacity
- Increase volume of materials in global textile supply chain
- Regularly execute performance analysis and process improvements
- Scale up to maximum capacity
- Release recycling feedstock grades for industry wide use
- Open second facility
- Achieve maximum capacity at second facility
- Open third facility…
NOTE: This high level overview is a very distilled version of a larger project plan, which we are not able to share publicly at this time. More details are available upon request.
Textiles created from virgin fibers embody tremendous resources. In the US alone, we discard 14.8M tons of textiles every year (1), wasting 20.7T gal H2O and 118.6M tons of CO2 emissions (2). The proliferation of a successful closed loop textile model will mitigate and could eventually eliminate the negative impact of the apparel industry that results from creating textile products with virgin fibers and disposing of these items after a single consumer use cycle. More climate related impacts are listed in the Emissions section of our Waste Management contest entry.
Brands and retailers will be able to effectively reclaim products from consumers through an efficient reverse logistics network and create new products from old ones in a true closed loop system. Reusing and recycling post consumer textiles in such a system could save up to 7.5% of US landfill space annually (1).
Significant human value such as job creation and materials reuse is deeply embedded in textiles, and it can be extracted through a system that processes secondhand goods for their highest use value (3). While this does not appear on a traditional balance sheet, it is a powerful story that resonates with consumers and encourages them to participate in a closed loop process. Consumer buy-in to the concept of returning products to the supply chain is critical to the success of closed loop. Brands who communicate the human value of recycled textiles will greatly increase consumer participation in a closed loop textile system and elevate themselves as sustainable companies.
The import of second hand garments into emerging economies is controversial, and in some regions, the practice has been blamed for the atrophy of domestic textile manufacturing (4, 5). The economic impact of widespread second hand garment resale is a very real concern in many areas, and the East African Community is currently working toward implementing an import ban on these goods to revive their textile sector (6). Locating closed loop textile facilities in regions affected by second hand garment imports would enable the development of a new sustainable textile industry where traditional textile manufacturing has been lost.
The secondhand garment industry in the US and EU will be given a new vertical market. This will revive struggling companies, create more jobs, and reduce a massive post consumer textile waste problem in the developed world. The industry is currently experiencing extremely challenging market conditions that may last well into the future (7). As these companies collect, sort, and redistribute garments and footwear through multiple product cycles, collapse or severe atrophy in this industry throughout Europe and North America has extremely negative implications for the future of garment take-back programs and closed loop textiles.
Emerging economies see the value in a sustainable textile industry. While attending the Copenhagen Fashion Summit earlier this month, Juan Orlando Hernandez, President of Honduras, announced his plans to launch a $3.4B project focused on implementing the technology and infrastructure to support a robust sustainable textile industry (8). Our model is a natural fit for a project such as this.
Thread International is a shining example of how waste can be transitioned to textiles and provide economic impact within emerging markets. Their organization has created jobs and cleaned up waste in Haiti (and more recently US textile manufacturing industry waste), and they are supporting the re-emerging US textile industry by producing fabric domestically (9). We aim to follow their lead in some respects and go beyond it in others, such as co-locating recycling and production (fiber or yarn) within our pilot facility.
Who will take these actions?
Stakeholders and roles:
- Stakeholder engagement throughout the project
- Project management
- Model development, testing, and implementation
- Data collection, documentation, and reporting
Global second hand garment industry
- Participate in creation and refinement of initial model
- Assist with proof of concept testing
- Collaboratively define recycling feedstock grades
- Collaboratively define circular textile supply chain
- Activate circular textile supply chain
- Communicate investor and brand partner goals, needs, and expectations
- Define ideal feedstock specs for the short, mid, and long term
- Clarify current and long term pricing targets for recycling feedstocks
- Collaboratively define recycling feedstock grades
- Implementation of technology into pilot facility
Government organizations within emerging markets
- Provide input and collaborate on model refinement and infrastructure development phases
- Approve projects and provide appropriate support for development of required infrastructure
- Engage and organize key demographics and industries to support pilot facility
- Provide input and collaborate on model refinement
- Provide funding
- Participation in defining KPIs
- Setting expectations
- Articulating perspective on needs, challenges, and benefits of the model
Where will these actions be taken?
Stakeholder engagement through proof of concept phases will take place in the US. These efforts will be driven by our team located in the Pacific Northwest and will involve stakeholders around the globe. US-based stakeholders are located across the country. Proof of concept phases will likely be completed at a testing facility in the US.
The pilot facility will be launched at a strategic location within an emerging market. The model is structured for placement near heavy concentrations of post consumer textile waste and in regions where a textile manufacturing infrastructure already exists or domestic governments and industries have a strong desire to create one.
Three regions are currently being explored as viable options, because they import a large proportion of developed markets' second hand textiles: Central America / the Caribbean, Africa, and the Middle East. Regions that consume a high volume of textiles ship a significant amount of their unwanted textiles to these areas for reuse and disposal. Second hand textile management infrastructures and high concentrations of potential recycling feedstocks already exist in these areas. Our team is currently investigating each region’s ability to support a pilot facility and circular supply chain.
What are other key benefits?
A detailed description of key benefits are listed under Impacts in the “What actions do you propose?” section. Others include:
Brands and retailers can extract value from the same resources multiple times
- Use less water, energy, and chemistry
- Create fewer CO2 emissions
- Reduce impact of peak cotton and oil market volatility on price of textile commodities
Less landfill space used
Fewer GHG emissions related to the decomposition of natural fibers
What are the proposal’s costs?
We will use funds from this award to help fund stakeholder engagement and initial model refinement. Completion of this phase is estimated to cost $30,000.
The total cost of the project will be estimated following initial model refinement. We will be seeking investment from key stakeholders in order to move forward.
If our model is not built from a systems perspective or if the facility and circular supply chain do not implement high quality and safety standards, there could be negative side effects. We are acutely aware of this challenge and are taking the following concerns into account:
- The model must not result in a low yield / high waste facility that will create a larger textile waste problem in emerging markets
- The model’s circular textile supply chain must compliment, augment, or refine existing textile and second hand garment industries in emerging markets
- The model and it’s supply chain must not negatively impact job creation or the economic status of individuals living below the poverty line
- Providing living wages and safe working conditions must be a strictly adhered to policy within circular textile facilities and among their suppliers
- Fiber creation must not solely serve export markets; it must also support a robust regional textile industry by generating fiber for products purchased by those living in areas near circular textile facilities
- Strong regional support and local partnerships within the areas surrounding circular textile facilities are critical to the long-term success of the model and, most importantly, the economies in which they are located
Full proposal costs will be defined moving forward. Resource / cost sharing is expected. Expense type by phase:
- New supply chain development - Meetings / project mgmt (M/PM)
- Proof of concept - M/PM, logistics, facilities, labor
- Supply chain activation - M/PM, process mod / implementation
- Pilot facility & beyond - Facility, place-making, project dev, technology, scale up, process refinement, expansion
2016: Landscaping, stakeholder engagement, cost modeling
2017: Stakeholder onboarding, proof of concept
2018: Process refinement, technology stakeholders onboarded, facility launch
2019: Technology implementation, production scale up
2019-2021: Production for apparel supply chain, model refinement, post consumer garment collection initiatives kick off to increase diversion.
2021-2030: Model proliferation throughout strategic geographies, post consumer garment collection reaches 35%.
2030-2065: Virgin resource extraction for textile production decreases, becomes less than 25% of total fiber generation. New recycling technologies are implemented into existing closed loop facilities. Model is adjusted to compensate for changes in consumption patterns and geographic waste concentrations.
2065-2115: Virgin resources are no longer extracted for the creation of new textiles. Recycled, bio-based, and other low/no impact materials are used to create products in regional manufacturing models. Production within a closed loop system is the norm as a result of the initial model developed in 2016-2021.
(1) EPA Advancing Sust. Mat’ls Mgmt: 2013 Fact Sheet
(2) Conversion using BIR statistics
(3) REvolve Waste: CCC / ROC Case Study
(4) East Africa Second Hand Clothing Import Ban
(5) East Africa Used-Clothes Under Fire
(6) East African Community Meeting Minutes
(7) SMART White Paper: Why Is There Currently Less Demand for Used Clothing?
(8) Honduran Investment in Sustainable Textiles Sector