By Mary Hearty

The current situation brought by COVID-19 pandemic has affected many businesses resulting to the closure of major trading outlets globally. Textile industry is among leading commercial companies feeling the business heat-wave.

According to statistics, it is estimated that stocks at collection and processing companies are usually 3 to 4 times higher at this time of the year.

Speaking in a virtual meeting from Switzerland, Martin Boschen, President of Bureau of International Recycling Textiles Division, noted that it would take 18 to 24 months for usual business to take off.

He said until the current stocks reduce to normal levels, speaking of business as usual is far away.

Consequently, Mr Boschen regretted this has contributed to a huge escalation in inventories of both raw materials and sorted goods, hence to significant decrease in prices.

“We are currently in a situation that, in some markets and areas, the prices of unsorted, post-consumer textiles are lower than the costs for collection,” Mr Boschen lamented.

He cautioned that if the circumstance continues, it could be the end of many current collection systems as it has put collection, sorting and recycling at great risk.

Depending on the market,” he said, “current retail revenues are said to be 40 to 60 percent in Eastern Europe and Southern Europe, as well as in the open South American countries, and up to around 80 percent in North-West Europe and USA.”

During the meeting, the role of extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes in maximizing textiles reuse and recycling was also discussed.

Mr Boschen, on the other hand, said whatever new systems are put in place, it is important that they do not harm existing reuse mechanisms.

“We need to ensure that the waste hierarchy will be followed in future, putting reuse always above recycling,” Mr Boschen suggested.

Maud Hardy, Circular Economy Director at France-based Eco TLC, clarified that 70% of her EPR organization’s budget is devoted to support sorting, 20% to communications and 10% to studies and innovation.

Since 2010, a large proportion of the 52 innovation projects have been focusing on open loop solutions, representing potentially high-volume outlets.

Moreover, Ms Hardy outlined major priorities for her organization. They include investing to create a successful industrialization of recycling solutions, improvement of product durability throughout its life-cycle. Also, increasing the collection of used textiles and footwear both in terms of quantity and quality.

Finally, optimizing sorting efficiency for reuse and recycling, for instance, through the adoption of new technologies.

 Ms Hardy emphasized that EPR made sense only if the integrators of recycled materials are connected with the manufacturers of these materials.

Mauro Scalia, Director of Sustainable Businesses at the Belgium-based European apparel and textile confederation EURATEX, acknowledged the environmental challenges facing the “resource-intensive” textiles industry.

Mr Scalia encouraged: “We need to find new ways for making, using and disposing of products. New partnerships need to be built between the textiles industry and the collection and recycling part of the value chain.”

He concluded that EPR schemes need to be designed to support circularity, value different textiles that may need different recycling routes and solve real problems. Lastly, it needs to have beneficial consequences.