What fibers make up our garments? What are the clothes of Zara, Mango, H&M and other fast fashion brands made of? How much are the clothes we throw away actually reusable and recyclable?
About 550 kg of clothes were analyzed in the first ever study on fibers thrown into textile collection containers.
Developed by INTEXTER * of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC)) and student Beatriz Rodríguez of ESEIAAT **, the study is included in the report Análisis de la recogida de la ropa usada en España (Analysis of the collection of used clothing in Spain)***.
Analyzing the composition of the textile products in the bins through an innovative methodology, the research shows that:
- 62% of the clothes contained in the bins are reusable and 37% are recyclable. The most common fiber is cotton, with 50% in recyclable clothing and 60% in reusable clothing. Polyester follows, with 30% in both types. Cotton and polyester account for approximately 80% of recyclable clothing and 88% of reusable clothing.
- Acrylic, polyamide, wool and rayon viscose represent a much lower percentage. In the case of acrylic fiber there is a notable difference between recyclable garments, which represent 12.4%, and reusable garments (3.1%). Acrylic fiber is commonly used in outdoor clothing which is more likely to deteriorate during use, so the reuse rate of these garments is lower than recyclable.
According to INTEXTER director Enric Carrera, “In light of the analysis, we can say that the recycling strategy of post-consumer textile waste should focus on recovering and reusing 80% of the predominant fibres, namely cotton and polyester”.
The study also includes an analysis of the fiber composition of 700 garments from some of the leading fashion brands.
T-shirts, sweaters, jeans, underwear, socks and shirts from Zara, H&M, C&A and Mango reveal that 66.8% of garments are made of mixed fibers, thus significantly limiting the recycling potential. Only 37.3% of the garments studied are made 100% with a single fiber.
The compositions analyzed are not entirely representative because depending on the season (winter/summer) they can vary considerably, the study is therefore to be considered indicative.
Regarding home textiles, 361 articles were analyzed.
Sheets, towels, tablecloths and curtains from Ikea, Zara Home, H&M Home, 10xDIEZ and Carrefour are mainly made with a single material (80%). The most common fibers are cotton, polyester, linen, viscose and lyocell, in that order. Sheets and towels are made primarily of 100% cotton, while tablecloths and curtains of 100% polyester, although binary blends of cotton and polyester or cotton and linen are also used.
UPC’s INTEXTER also carried out an extensive literature review of existing studies on how much CO2 is saved by reusing clothing.
According to the study, carried out with an accurate methodology, the estimate of CO2 savings by reusing 1 kg of clothes is higher than what the EU has outlined so far ****: one kilo of unwanted clothes is enough to avoid the production of 25 kg of CO2.
It doesn’t seem like it, but with small gestures such as recovering, modifying, repairing, donating or selling clothes that we no longer use we can help improve everyone’s quality of life! In the Upcycling section of the site you can read some articles on the subject.
*Terrassa Institute of Textile Research and Industrial Cooperation.
**Terrassa School of Industrial, Aerospace and Audiovisual Engineering.
***Made by the Cáritas cooperative Moda re- and the LAVOLA consultancy company.
****3.169 kg of CO2 saved for every kg of unwanted clothes.