Kim Scholze (Source: Sympatex)
The textile industry is today one of the largest industrial polluters and accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. Only 12% of all virgin textile fibers are recycled at present. In March 2022 the European Commission published its "Circular Economy Action Plan". Sympatex promises to reach circularity by 2030 and will produce functional textiles from recycled and recyclable mono-materials. Used textiles should be transformed into new, high-quality functional textiles.
From 2025, used clothing and other textiles will be collected separately throughout Europe to facilitate reuse and recycling. Can you share any ideas yet on how this plan will be approached and implemented at Sympatex?
Sympatex has closely followed the amendment of the Circular Economy Act and is working in various committees to advance the topic. As early as 2017, Sympatex set the agenda of aligning its portfolios with recyclable mono-materials in order to enable separate collection. For the areas of outdoor textiles and workwear, we have converted to 95%. The remaining 5% will be developed through various approaches in research projects, such as developing polyester fibers that are as robust as polyamides, chemical recycling trials in which various fiber materials can be recycled in a high-quality and low-emission manner, or new production processes to enable grade purity in the first place. An example of this is our Utmospheric technology. Here, the shoe lining is deep-drawn instead of being cut to size in 2D and then made waterproof with non-recyclable tape.
What influence have European regulations for sustainable textiles on the competitiveness of European textile and apparel companies?
Goods manufactured in the EU, but also imported, must comply with the regulations. In the medium to long term, the EU will hopefully be able to make use of f2f materials alone. EU textile products are durable and recyclable, affordable to a large extent from recycled fibers, free of hazardous substances and produced with social rights and the environment in mind. At the same time, fast fashion is "out of fashion" and economically profitable reuse and repair services are widespread. Producers take responsibility for their products along the value chain, even if they become waste. The circular textile ecosystem is thriving, driven by sufficient capacity for innovative fiber-to-fiber recycling, while reducing the incineration and landfilling of textiles to a minimum
Could you please explain how Sympatex wants to achieve the circularity by 2030? What is new and different about the materials and technologies in your production processes?
100 billion garments and 23 billion pairs of shoes produced annually represent Sympatex's future source of raw materials at the end of their life cycle. By switching the entire industry to recyclable polyester products in the field of synthetic materials, we use the waste of our industry to produce new highly functional products. New and far above the standard is that Sympatex produces functional textiles from recycled and recyclable mono-materials. Sympatex will no longer use new materials from the oil industry in the future. Instead, used textiles are transformed into new, high-quality functional textiles. Accordingly, the 2-layer, polyester-based functional textile Banff consists of 100 % recycled textiles.
How can we increase the amount of textiles for recycling? What are the biggest challenges for the recycling of textiles?
We need to train our product designers and product developers and communicate directly with the collectors, sorters and recycling companies what Design2Recycle really means. Due to the dynamics and continuous further development of recycling processes, the term 'Design2Recycle' will constantly change in terms of content. Nowadays we can safely say "polyester-based mono-materials are technically, economically attractive and can be easily recycled with relatively low emissions". Thus, it does not thwart our climate goals.
If the designers/developers design in coordination with the recyclers, then we solve 5 major challenges at once:
• mountains of waste become raw materials,
• the availability of recycled fibers is ensured,
• Along with this, prices will stabilize,
• the vast majority of the microplastic content occurs at the end of the life of the product, we would prevent this through recycling,
• the combustion of clothing causes additional emissions, these would also be saved.
At the same time, we see the trend that companies are declining their production towards Europe. Delivery times and costs as well as the continuing uncertain pandemic situation will require a rethink in the short to medium term. This development would also benefit the development of a European textile infrastructure.
How do you see the role of the industry here, and what is the role of the consumer?
Recent studies show - consumers are ready for second-hand clothing. Online retailers and brands are ready and in some cases already successful with their own POS concepts. In this way, the industry is paving the way for a circular economy and releasing the dirty image of used clothing from the minds of society.
The interview was conducted by Mechthild Maas, editor of TextileTechnology, with Kim Scholze, Chief Sustainable Community Manager of Sympatex Technologies GmbH, Unterföhring/Germany.