End of March, the ‘EU strategy for sustainable and circular textiles’ was published. It guides the transition of the textiles sector to its overall goal:
By 2030 textile products placed on the EU market are long-lived and recyclable, to a great extent made of recycled fibres, free of hazardous substances and produced in respect of social rights and the environment. Consumers benefit longer from high quality affordable textiles, fast fashion is out of fashion, and economically profitable re-use and repair services are widely available. In a competitive, resilient and innovative textiles sector, producers take responsibility for their products along the value chain, including when they become waste. The circular textiles ecosystem is thriving, driven by sufficient capacities for innovative fibre-to-fibre recycling, while the incineration and landfilling of textiles is reduced to the minimum.
The objectives of the DECOAT project are in line with this ambitious goal. Up to now, coated textiles end up being incinerated or landfilled as the coating hampers the recycling process at end-of-life. Removing the coating will allow to recycle the textile fibre material, which is a pillar of the EU strategy. DECOAT focusses on a fibre-to-fibre recycling process, without downcycling of the textile materials.
Implementing the DECOAT solutions will demand redesign of the current products (design for recycling), asking for involvement and responsibility from the producers. They will need to add an additional debondable primer layer or incorporate specially designed triggers into the coating layer of the products, allowing to debond the coating at end-of-life. As these alterations will not lead to increased product performance during the use phase, but are only active after triggering at end-of-life, a changed mindset of the producers is a necessity. Here we will be helped by introducing Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) as proposed in the Textile Strategy as EPR incentivises product design that promotes circularity throughout the material life cycle.
Some bottlenecks have been identified during the project to enable this circular textiles ecosystem. Next to the technical feasibility of the recycling process itself, logistics aspects (like collection) and economic aspects (like waste volumes) need to be defined. It is clear that the recycling facilities should be located in the vicinity of the collection point reducing the costs of transport. It should also be a joint effort from multiple stakeholders, allowing to have a sufficient critical waste volume to make the debonding, and subsequent recycling, economically viable. Implementing these recycling technologies will ask collaboration along the whole value chain!