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Polish Textile Industry Faces Challenges in Recycling and Reducing Consumption

COMMERCEPolish Textile Industry Faces Challenges in Recycling and Reducing Consumption

November and December promotions encourage clothing purchases, but even throughout the year Poles buy more and more clothes – Fashion for Good estimates that this is an average of 60% more clothing than 15 years ago. Moreover, each piece of clothing is used for half as long. Over half of all produced clothing ends up being incinerated or dumped within a year of production. “Second hand stores, buying clothing in the second cycle or recycling itself do not solve the problem of overconsumption and overproduction of clothes. We can do a lot ourselves at the level of individual decisions” – assesses Monika Lipnicka, expert in secondary clothing cycle at Wtórpol.

“We are now in a very unusual period in the calendar between Black Friday, that is November, and winter sales, which end in late January and early February. This is when we buy the most clothes, and unfortunately, most of them will serve us very short. The statistics show that we use one piece of clothing on average seven to eight times. This probably means that it was bought impulsively and emotionally. This is later clearly visible on sorting belts. We see clothes that are essentially new, either with manufacturer’s tags or completely undamaged,” says Monika Lipnicka to the Newseria Biznes agency.

Data from the European Commission shows that the EU generates 12.6 million tons of textile waste per year. Clothing and footwear alone produce 5.2 million tons of waste, which equates to 12 kg of waste per person per year. Currently, only 22% of these are reused or recycled, with the majority often being incinerated or stored. According to data from the Fashion Transparency Index developed by Fashion Revolution, less than 1% of clothing is processed into new clothing. At the same time, we buy more and more of it and use it for a shorter period of time.

Wtórpol’s 2021 report “Knowledge about recycling clothing among Poles” indicates that almost half of people get rid of clothes that they haven’t worn for a long time or that have become too small or too large. However, one in five admits that it is dictated by a change in dressing style, and just over 15% indicate that the clothing has simply become boring to them.

“We can give clothes a second life in many other ways. We can exchange them, donate them to a charitable institution that is collecting them. Unnecessary items can also be sold. The simplest and most ecological solution is to put unnecessary clothes in special containers. We then know that our clothes, the ones in good condition, have a chance to serve others, and the worse ones will be recycled and get a completely new life,” says the expert.

A survey by SW Research on behalf of EPP shows that 89% of Poles agree with the statement that donating unused clothing is a way to help those in need, and 86% see it as a sign of care for the environment. Poles declare they most often give clothes a second life by putting them in special containers (42%), giving them to family or friends (34%). Every third respondent chooses to sell them, and every fifth takes them to collections or gives them to organizations helping those in need.

Wtórpol’s report indicates that more and more people are considering the environmental cost of their clothing purchases, and locally produced clothing made from natural materials, alternative fibers and production methods, as well as used clothing stores, are gaining popularity.

“In our sorting plant we carry out several types of recycling. Cotton clothes are processed into factory rags, sweaters are made into carpets, and from all other damaged clothes that have not found their application at any other stage, we produce alternative fuel, which is a more ecological substitute for hard coal. There is also another form of giving clothes a second life – upcycling, when we make completely new items from old things,” enumerates Monika Lipnicka. “With clothing it’s very simple. Sometimes it’s enough to cut off the trousers, sew on attractive applications and we have a completely new item that doesn’t change its use, but it is completely new and unique. Today I’m wearing such an upcycled jacket.”

The textile industry needs to prepare, on the one hand, for educating consumers, but also for designing products that are durable and suitable for precise, selective textile collection. According to European directives, this will be mandatory by 2025. By 2030, clothes should be made to a greater extent from materials recycled from clothes.

“Clothes that are to end up in such recycling must be of a certain composition. This means that sorting plants or recycling companies must receive clothes made only of cotton or only polyester. A troublesome challenge for such processes are various types of material mixtures. All other elements, such as buttons, buckles, zippers, patches, applications, sequins which must be removed by hand, are also a big obstacle. This should be kept in mind while shopping,” says the expert in clothing recycling.

84 million kg of clothing arrive at the Wtórpol sorting plant in Skarżysko-Kamienna every year, which is about 1.5 million pieces of clothing every day. Here, 350 tonnes of textiles are given a second life every day.

“These are clothes exclusively from Polish wardrobes, donated by the average Kowalski and Nowak, we do not import clothes from abroad,” points out Monika Lipnicka. “This is a lot, as evidenced by the impressions of people who visit our sorting plant. These are often people very closely associated with fashion. The quantity they see on the sorting belts allows them to imagine the scale. And these are not all the clothes that Poles throw away. Only a part of them end up in our sorting plant, a large part end up in garbage dumps and other organizations that run similar activities.”

According to the expert, educational campaigns are necessary. Many Poles do not associate the second cycle of clothing or reducing consumption with pro-environmental activities, which they often perceive as waste segregation or saving water and energy. Wtórpol has been supporting social initiatives and projects aimed at protecting the environment for years. As the only Polish company, it joined the Sorting for Circularity project dedicated to the model of sorting and reintroducing clothing into circulation. Together with the Auchan network, it organized a collection of old backpacks in exchange for a voucher for a new one. The company also runs “Clean Up Your Closet” collections in schools.

“Clothing collection is one of the elements of such an action, the other is environmental education. On this occasion, we can talk about what happens to clothes, what possibilities we have to utilize those unnecessary ones, what will happen to those that end up in landfills, and how we can ensure that the scale of this problem has a chance to stop. This year we conducted two such actions, in the spring we managed to collect almost 35 tons, and in the autumn over 53 tons of unnecessary clothes,” says the expert in clothing recycling at Wtórpol.

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