France: Collaborative Textiles Recycling Initiative

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Northern France France: Collaborative Textiles Recycling Initiative

The Textiles Recycling Valley initiative in Northern France puts interdisciplinary collaboration at the forefront of a drive to dramatically increase collection and reuse of textiles. Core partners of the project each bring different skills or knowledge in convening relevant stakeholders, textile innovation, reverse logistics, materials reuse and economics.

Collaboration in business can be an intimidating prospect, especially when the collaboration might involve sharing with potential competitors. As the circular economy is a system-wide change, and about much more than one product, company, or sector, pre-competitive collaboration is essential in creating or scaling flows of materials. The economics become more interesting when large volumes of material can be processed, which puts collaboration at the heart of the transition to a circular economy for these types of products.

Collaboration in Textiles

Northern France’s Regional Council is directly fostering collaboration around textiles flows with the Textiles Recycling Valley initiative, a joint action plan of four clusters and the national recycling organisation for textiles to develop innovation and stimulate economic action in the field of recycled textiles. A convention between partners was signed in June 2013 for the development of a three-year plan, with the overall goal to create profitable businesses and sustainable jobs in the textiles recycling sector.

In France it is estimated that 600,000 tonnes of clothing, household linen, shoes and workwear is currently discarded each year, but only a quarter of that volume is currently collected.

Five organisations form the core partners of the project – cd2e, T2M, UP-tex, Team² and EcoTLC - and each bring different skills or knowledge in convening relevant stakeholders, textile innovation, reverse logistics, materials re-use and economics. This breadth is necessary, as this is an interdisciplinary initiative which seeks to shift the activities of participating businesses from a linear flow of textile material to a more circular one, including the design, processes, uses, promotion and marketing. While a piece of textile innovation or a cutting-edge recycling technology has potential to create more elegant resource flows in the future, there is an enormous opportunity in capturing and processing materials currently in circulation today. Other materials cycling efforts have demonstrated that open-minded collaboration is the key in unlocking the significant economic opportunity in the used textiles. This is one reason why the Textiles Recycling Valley partners are embracing this voluntary, self-funded collaboration.

The results so far

Sourcing greater volumes of material is crucial in the textile sector as it generally makes sorting according to colours, types and quality more economically appealing, as the resultant separate material flows can command greater value. To this end, the Textiles Recycling Valley project has firm targets of sorting/capturing 50% of waste fabric on the market, and reusing/recycling 95% of that by 2019. Going beyond this, Northern France seeks to avoid producing waste through involving diverse companies to rethink the end of life of their products at the design stage.

For biological materials, the essence of value creation lies in the opportunity to extract additional value from products and materials by cascading them through other applications.

- Towards the Circular Economy vol. 2 (2013)

As well as direct reuse and recycling, one potential route for collected textiles is through a cascade, in which additional value is extracted from products and materials by cascading them through other applications. In this case, both insulation and filtration products are developed from recycled fibres.

For biological materials, the essence of value creation lies in the opportunity to extract additional value from products and materials by cascading them through other applications.

In terms of the wider economy, those behind Textiles Recycling Valley expect to demonstrate how circular activities can create new jobs in the long term. While it is too soon for the project to have generated meaningful data, supporting research is hopeful. A recent UK employment study by WRAP predicted that greater circularity, including increased materials cycling, could both cut unemployment and offset the forecast decline in skilled jobs. In addition to this the Textiles Recycling Valley has created a Circular Textile Stock Exchange online to facilitate exchanges and marketing of ‘end-of-life’ current products, enabling the connection between buyers of secondary raw materials and waste producers.


Level of Government

Regional

Responsible Agencies

TEAM² and UP-tex