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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Caroline Barbance

Closing the loop in the textile industry

Clothing production has been increasing over the past decades driven by demand from population growth, but also due to the “fast fashion” trend, which is based on the frequent introduction of new products into stores encouraging customers to consume more. This trend accelerates raw material extraction necessary for textile fibre production. Of the different fibres used within the textile industry, cotton is the most environmentally detrimental, but also the most commonly used. Therefore, to minimize the environmental impacts of the textile industry, the challenges presented by cotton production must be resolved. In addition, as clothes are becoming cheaper, consumers tend to purchase more and have developed a throwaway attitude. This ultimately has led to textile waste being the fastest growing waste stream in the UK, with 350,000 tonnes (equivalent of £140 million worth) of “used” clothing are landfilled in the UK every year.
Thus the purpose of the research is to assess how cotton solid waste could be part of the solution rather than the problem by closing the loop for textile fibres, and converting these wastes through a recycling process into new value added products. This approach is an alternative that would both address the issues related to clothes ending in the landfill and to diminish the need to extract virgin resources, hence, addressing the issues related to the production of these fibres.
However, the absence of end market for recycled materials and the absence of incentives for producers to implement closed-loop systems seem to impede the transition from a linear to a circular use of resources in the clothing industry. This paper founds that through the establishment of a mandatory EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) scheme, this process could be accelerated. A scenario analysis was performed to assess the efficiency of EPR scheme regarding how much cotton solid waste could be reused or recycled to avoid cotton production in the UK. However, it was found that the implementation of an EPR scheme similar to the French Eco TLC won’t be as effective in the UK as they already have relatively high reuse rate.