It used to be that clothes were used until they were worn out, you just had to sew them up and patch them up to reuse them and give them a chance to continue their journey, to extend their lifespan until they end up in a dishcloth, or a rag to remove oil stains.
Nowadays, this is no longer the case. In high-income countries, in particular, consumers rush to acquire clothes, shoes and upholstered furniture, then soon things lose their novelty and appeal, so they shed them in search of the most recent and most modern, etc. The proof comes from the world of data. In 1995, textile factories produced 7.6 kilograms of fiber for every person on the planet. By 2018, that number had nearly doubled to about 13.8 kilograms per capita. If we add to this the increase in the world's population, from 5.7 billion people to 7.6 billion, it is not surprising that the world's population today consumes more than 60 million tons of clothing. per year, and this number is expected to reach nearly 100 million tonnes by 2030.
Why does the term "fast fashion" have this name?
The reason for this is that today's fashion industry releases new lines every week, unlike previous years when it only happened four times a year. Fashion houses now produce nearly twice as many clothes as they did in the 2000s, most of which are made in China and middle-income countries like Turkey, Vietnam and Bangladesh. The number of garment workers in the world is estimated at 300 million. Amazingly, we throw away nearly 50 billion pieces of clothing within a year of making them, notes a May 2022 report from a workshop of industry experts.
It can be said that textiles in general are divided into two broad categories: the first, those made of natural fibers, while the other is made of synthetic fibers. Textiles made from natural sources – whether vegetable like cotton or animal like wool – have a degree of relative stability, albeit slow production. On the other hand, we note that manufactured fibers, which are based on polymers, in particular polyester, have seen their production go from around 25 million tonnes annually in 2000 to nearly 65 million tonnes in 2018, according to the report of the above-mentioned expert workshop. If all of this data says anything, it indicates the extent of damage to the environment. On the water side, the garment industry is one of the most water-consuming industries in the world. It consumes between 20 and 200 trillion liters per year. And this effect is not limited to the depletion of water resources, as there is the danger posed by microplastics. When we wash polyester fabrics or other polymer-based garments, some plastic fibers leak out, representing between 20% and 35% of the total microplastics that clog the oceans. Add to that the risks posed by certain chemicals used to make stain-resistant fabrics and pesticides to protect agricultural crops such as cotton. It is therefore not surprising that we desperately need to change this situation, even if it requires the fashion industry to work at full speed to spread the adoption of the ideas of the so-called circular economy. . This system is based on at least two axes: the first is to redirect attention to the manufacture of durable goods, then to encourage their reuse; The second is the expansion of sustainable manufacturing technologies and solutions, particularly recycling. Here, the role of scientific research appears most clearly, in both academic and industrial fields, in achieving these and other goals. Researchers can start to help by making more accurate estimates of water consumption. Certainly, we can reduce the consumption range, which goes from 200,000 billion liters of water to 20,000 billion, as well as develop recycling of textiles and improve the quality of this process. It is well known that used textiles often end up in landfills (approximately 85% in the United States), which is due, in part, to the lack of commercial systems that would facilitate the collection, recycling and widespread availability of materials to use again.
This recycling process requires sorting materials by hand, separating fibers, buttons and zippers. However, work is currently underway to develop machines that can help perform this task. Additionally, there are technologies that can chemically recycle used fibers into high-quality fibers that can be reused in garment manufacturing, but they are still far from the scale of production required. Another challenge for researchers in this field is how to get consumers and manufacturers to change their consumption patterns, a growing field among researchers in social and behavioral sciences. Other research questions focused on finding ways to encourage people to buy durable goods, discovering a way to satisfy the impulse to acquire new products while minimizing environmental harm, understanding why certain actions and initiatives succeed and scale up, while others fail.
Follow the development
The researchers also expect collaboration between industry and academia to develop a system, such as an electronic system, that allows us to track microplastics from textiles. But the effectiveness of this system depends on an agreed definition of what these microplastics are, their dimensions and their physical composition. Companies, universities, and environmental activists, as well as governments, need to think hard about how to make these technologies available, accelerating their development, testing, and ultimately widespread adoption.
The New Cotton Project has developed an innovative solution to reverse these statistics, based on proprietary technology, promising to innovate by bringing circularity to the textile industry, converting textile waste into high-quality cotton fibers.
Get ready for recycled clothes
From 2025, the recycling of textile waste will be mandatory in the European Union, and a Finnish company, coordinator of the project, presented its patented technology to convert textiles ready for landfill into high-quality fibers that can be used to produce clothing for the entire fashion industry, from haute couture. The company created the Infinna textile fiber, scientifically known as "carbamate cellulose fiber", which is very similar to cotton. The new fiber does not contain carbon disulfide and can be mixed with other types of materials such as spandex and polyester to produce different types of fabrics. This technology can transform textile waste into a variety of fibers and other cellulose waste, resulting in new The circular model is a scalable and environmentally friendly solution in all respects.