The amount of discarded textiles is increasing annually, with projections of further acceleration. Although some of this waste is reused, a significant proportion is diverted for recycling. To create the necessary infrastructure to effectively recycle these textiles, an understanding of their material composition is needed. Enter the Sorting for Circularity Project.

The current textile sorting system, which relies heavily on manual input, cannot provide accurate insights given often unreliable and absent clothing labels. Today, BESTSELLER can announce the launch of the Sorting for Circularity Project together with Fashion for Good and other key partners to address this challenge on a scale greater than ever before.

Bringing together key brands and industry leaders from across Europe, the project will conduct a comprehensive textile waste analysis using more accurate, innovative Near Infrared (NIR) technology, while also mapping textile recyclers’ capabilities. This research will lead to an open digital platform to match textile waste from sorters with recyclers, enabling their alignment and building an infrastructure towards greater circularity in the years to come.

“Overall, we expect our participation in the project will identify ways to create greater harmonisation between the sorting and recycling industry. We hope to see that textile waste can become a valuable ressource, while at the same time creating new business models for sorters and enhance levels of circularity across the industry,” says Dorte Rye Olsen, who heads BESTSELLER’s Sustainability work.

Katrin Ley, Managing Director, Fashion for Good adds:

“The aim of the 18-month project is to create a greater link between textile sorters and textile recyclers; stimulating a recycling market for unwanted textiles that can generate new revenue streams for sorters. Traditionally, the sorting industry generates income through the sale of reusable textiles, with the remainder being downcycled, incinerated or landfilled. To achieve a circular system, a new end-market for non-reusable textiles is required, with an infrastructure and digital matching system that can support activities of sorters and recyclers.”

BESTSELLER’s participation in the project is also connected with three Fashion FWD goals:

- By 2025, we will drive forward post-consumer waste and circular infrastructure solutions, engaging in collaborative initiatives to turn waste into valuable resources.

- By 2025, we will facilitate the development of more sustainable fibres and materials at market scale through innovation and industry collaborations.

- By 2025, we will have tested and implemented circular business models in selected key markets with relevant partners.

Bringing the industry together

The Sorting for Circularity Project is driven by Fashion for Good with catalytic funding provided by Laudes Foundation and facilitated by brand partners, adidas, BESTSELLER, and Zalando, as well as Inditex as an external partner. Fashion for Good partners Arvind Limited, Birla Cellulose, Levi Strauss & Co., Otto and PVH Corp. are also participating as part of the wider working group.

Circle Economy leads the creation and implementation of the methodology, with support from Refashion, to assess textile waste composition. Both organisations build on their extensive experience from similar projects, such as the Interreg Fibersort Project and previous textile composition analyses.

The analysis will provide the most representative snapshot of textile waste composition generated in Europe. What is more, Fashion for Good and Circle Economy will map the current and future capabilities of textile recyclers in the region – illuminating crucial gaps between the sorting and recycling industry, and the innovation, investment and policy changes required to accelerate circularity.

Findings from the project’s research will ultimately enable sorters to take action through the support of a digital platform that matches their textile waste with recyclers. This open-source platform will bring greater transparency, spark greater harmonisation between the industries, and ensure the learnings contribute to foundational change for the industry at large.

The project brings together the largest industrial textile sorters in the North-West European region; including the Boer Group, I:CO (a part of SOEX Group), JMP Wilcox (a part of Textile Recycling International) and TEXAID, placing key industry players firmly at the heart of the project and driving the industry towards greater circularity.

The French-accredited Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) eco-organisation Refashion, a key project partner, provides input into the methodology and leads the NIR scanner calibration. Aligning the Sorting for Circularity Project with their own study in France ensures methodologies and findings can be standardised, compared and implemented on a larger scale.