While 62 percent of used clothing still end up in household waste today, their re-use could contribute massively to CO2 and water savings efforts. The Brussels-based European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (EuRIC) has now commissioned a new life-cycle assessment (LCA) that compared new clothing to secondhand textiles. The LCA shows that the environmental impact of reusing textiles is 70 times lower for used garments compared to new ones, even when accounting for global exports for reuse, including transport emissions.

More specifically, the study reveals that a massive 3kg of CO2 is saved for each high/medium-quality clothing that is reused. While only a mere 0.01 percent of the water used to produce new clothing is required for reuse. These results come on the back of the EU launching its Strategy for Sustainable Textiles just a few months ago and requirements for member states to start collecting textiles separately by 2025. While the study confirms waste hierarchy assumptions on the environmental benefits of reuse over recycling, in the case of low-quality clothing, typically entirely composed of polyester, recycling also has comparative environmental benefits when consumers are less likely to purchase second-hand clothing.

The study also provides recommendations to policymakers and calls for initiatives that accelerate investment in state-of-the-art textile recycling facilities around the world. In particular, EuRIC stresses the need for innovation in fiber-to-fiber recycling, which is key to keeping textile fibers in the loop since the amount of non-recyclable clothing is set to increase dramatically. The study also points to the importance of eco-design criteria that extend the life of clothing before it needs to be recycled, as well as regulations that require detailed sorting of high/medium quality and low-quality textiles.

The EuRIC Textiles project, founded in 2019, aims at promoting, representing and protecting the collective interests of the European textiles reuse and recycling industry. EuRIC Textiles members are national reuse and recycling federations as well as companies active in the field of collecting and processing post-consumer textiles.