How should textile waste be treated?

The textile waste It is the waste from the clothing industry. The Catalan Waste Agency specifies that “they come from clothing, footwear and other textile material such as household linen, bags, cloths, etc., which once used for a specified period of time becomes waste”.

Textile waste: a real problem

The Iberian Association for Textile Recycling (Asirtex) points out that the textile waste is the second most polluting in the world and that more than 800,000 tons end up in landfills.

These wastes also include surpluses from any industry that uses raw materials from the textile sector and garments that are destroyed without reaching the final consumer.

The production cycle of the textile industry involves a large amount of resources even before entering the garment manufacturing process. It is usually grouped into sectors.

  • Fibers: They can be natural, of plant or animal origin, or synthetic, of chemical or petrochemical origin. Use large amounts of water and chemical solvents.
  • Threads: fibers are used as raw material and colorants and coatings are added, all of chemical origin.
  • Fabrics: convert threads into fabrics. Use chemical lubricants to protect the thread.
  • Dyeing and finishes: physical and chemical processes are used to improve the characteristics of yarns and fabrics.

Textile production closes with the manufacturing processes, which also includes accessories.

Environment-related problems:

The first obvious problems of the textile process emerge from this cycle:

  • Pesticides used in cotton cultivation.
  • A large amount of water is consumed in the early stages.
  • There is a high release of carbon emissions.
  • Different amounts and types of chemicals are present.
  • A large quantity of petrochemical derivatives is used as raw material, which are not biodegradable.
  • Disposal of clothing is encouraged, without repositories or defined purposes.

This huge debt of the fashion industry with global sustainability has drawn the attention of local and international organizations, as well as private initiatives and, to strengthen the global competitiveness of the sector, emphasis is now placed on ecological performance.

In that sense, one of the objectives of the textile sector is to tend towards green businesses, incorporating good environmental practices that minimize the impact on natural resources and the environment.

Treatment of textile waste, depends on its origin. We know that they come from two sources:

  • Domestic origin: those used in and by household members. Clothing, home textile implements and accessories, footwear, etc.
  • Industrial origin: It is the one that remains as a secondary product in the manufacturing process of products and includes all industries that use yarns, fabrics and clothing, such as the automotive, construction and furniture sectors, for example.

How should textile waste be treated?


textile fibers can be recovered. This would save water resources, reduce the use of pesticides in new crops and reduce the emission of Co2 into the atmosphere.


Circularity: This approach to the problem suggests that you have to focus on the life cycle of clothing and textiles. The circular economy seeks to minimize waste and pollution extending the useful life of the products and raw material, regenerating natural systems.

Greenpeace is one of the organisms that promotes it, maintaining that the “over consumption” of textiles is one of the main problems; thus, they suggest reducing the use of new materials and preventing long-term waste disposal.

The Ellen McArthur Foundation, in the United Kingdom, created the initiative “Make fashion circulate” with which they intend to “stimulate the collaboration and innovation necessary to create a new textile economy, aligned with the principles of a circular economy”.


The basic objective is incorporate the finished products or their elements in the manufacture of new textile pieces or other products.


Thrift shopping: clothing in good condition can be placed on the national or international market. The Humana Foundation, in Spain, is an example of this initiative, with 52 stores for sale and more than 5,000 containers throughout the country, where clothing, footwear or any household textiles that are not used can be deposited.

Channels of solidarity: used clothing is reused and given to third parties who need it. The best known are the wardrobes of Cáritas and the Red Cross.

Recycling companies: Fabric scraps can not only be part of the production of new articles of clothing or textile garments for other industries, but can also be used to make threads, ropes, blankets, etc.

The Swedish chain of stores H&M has offered a textile recycling policy since 2013, as part of its social responsibility, in which it accepts garments that are no longer used, regardless of the brand.

Suggestions on textile waste

For end users in the textile sector:

  • Reuse textile garments.
  • Extend the useful life and use of clothes.
  • Take care of the pieces of clothing, limiting, for example, the use of the dryer.
  • Reduce the consumption and acquisition of new garments.
  • Prefer manufacturers with ecological garments and that respect the environment in the manufacture.
  • Be informed about all activities in the sector, in order to make intelligent decisions in the process of buying and using products.
  • Donate clothing that will no longer be used.
  • Take the garments to a collection service.

For manufacturers in the textile sector:

  • Create collection centers for garments to be disposed of by customers. From there they can reuse, as filling material, for example, or sell as second-hand garments.
  • Mindset shift: textiles should be viewed as a resource, not a waste.
  • Investment in cleaner processes that ensure, for example, the reuse and recycling of water.
  • Innovation in processes, so that fewer natural resources are used and less waste is produced.
  • Respect for local and international regulations on the use of natural resources and the sustainable development goals issued by the United Nations.

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