Circular Textiles


As a follow-up of the roundtable discussion on ‘sustainable & inclusive business in textiles’ on 20th February 2018 in Colombo, one of the identified opportunities from the Sri Lankan textile companies was to invest in a joint recycling plant to meet the growing demand of ‘circular’ textiles in The Netherlands and EU.

The intention is to setup a (private owned) sorting and shredder facility in Sri Lanka, using cutting waste as circular input for spinning mills to be used in combination with virgin (bio) cotton. The output will be circular yarns and fabric.

With regard to this opportunity, two questions were raised:

  • How does the Dutch/EU market for circular textiles look like in numbers?
  • How to start and implement circular production (technology)?


To answer these questions CSR Netherlands and CSR Sri Lanka propose the following roadmap:

Step 1 – An indication and outline of the Dutch market demand for circular textiles and a brief overview of what circular textiles entail.

Step 2 – Identifying potential textile companies.

Step 3 – A road trip through the ‘Dutch Circular Textile Valley’ to showcase technical expertise, to meet buyers (work wear) and stakeholders (incl. Dutch Covenant, representing >60% of the buying power). The one-week road trip will be planned in October and will visit places in The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany; we call it “The trade mission”

Step 4 – Building a coalition of Dutch and Sri Lankan partners and signing an Ambition Statement/GreenDeal during the design week end of October in Colombo.

Step 5 – Drafting a proposal for implementation of circular production in Sri Lanka, based on a public-private partnership investment (for example with ADB).

Explanation of circular textiles

The textile industry is the second most polluting industry in the world. The current linear business model is reaching its limits and cannot grow in a sustainable way. There is a large surplus of textile waste and resource material will become scarce at some point. A circular business model is needed. Therefore, European experts and brands want to work together with sorting and shreddering companies to prove that a responsible and transparent textile product can be offered, and still at an affordable price. This concerns products with an as high as possible percentage of recycled content. This would maximise the reuse of fibres and minimise textile waste. The envisioned scale of recycled yarn production in Sri Lanka makes the yarns reachable and affordable for (the producers of) mainstream fashion brands in the EU.

The concept of circular textiles means that fibres (in this case cotton) from pre- (and post-) consumer waste (clippings/cutting waste) are shredded and re-spun into new yarns. Various partners covering the textiles supply chain should work together in a ‘closed loop’. This concerns every step from the collection of fabric waste to the production of recycled textile products. This would include the shredding, transport, recycling, etc. In Europe, several technical parties are testing and developing revolutionary sorting and recycling technologies. They all strive to implement the SDGs in their operations ensuring a great working climate in a fully transparent supply chain.

A circular textile chain in Sri Lanka can cover the growing demand for recycled content in garments (see next). In terms of environmental compensation, such a circular textile value chain saves raw materials, water & energy and will have good labour conditions for all people working in this chain. After the workwear sector who already embraced the concept, the time is coming that mainstream fashion will follow. To meet that demand the market needs large production locations that can provide recycled content in fabrics.

See for full explanation the Roadmap Circular Textiles below.

Indication Dutch market for circular textiles

In the Dutch market, the demand for circular textiles is significantly growing. In the business-to-business industry (e.g. workwear), the raise in demand is very clear. European Businesses mostly do comply with a serious CSR strategy. They become more and more aware of their environmental effects and upgrade their sustainability practices, which also includes the clothes of their employees. As an example: One supplier of business-to-business textiles in the Netherlands sees their production of circular content raising from 10% of their total collection in the beginning of 2018 to an expected 25% at the end of 2018. They aim for recycled content is 100% of their collection by 2020.

This does however include higher costs, as they work with a system that makes them return their ‘old’ fabrics to the factory (sorting costs, transport costs, shredding costs). These costs are compensated by the decreased costs of virgin material input. However, if the collection of recycled material is done in the recycling plant itself, the costs are most likely to be weight out the price decrease of recycled yarn, which does not necessarily make the clothes more expensive. In addition, the envisioned large scale of production will keep the costs down.

In case of business to consumer brands (fashion, sportswear etc), this is a bit more complicated, although a clear turning point is visible in the last years. The European consumer does not directly demand for recycled content in their clothes, as consumer awareness is not too widespread. However, it has been shown that as soon as it is known by the consumer that a product saves the environment by containing recycled content, it becomes more attractive to buy. A case study of a large European Retailer showed that as soon as they started communicating about the recycled content in a batch of jeans, the jeans were sold out more quickly than the regular jeans. It can thus be said that the European consumer market is standing at a turning point where the demand is still silent but steps up when the supply meets it.

Another serious example of a higher demand of recycled content in the business-to-consumer industry is the Global Fashion Agenda, a leadership forum on sustainability in fashion. The world’s biggest fashion retailers are committed to the Global Fashion Agenda, which means they set goals for sustainability in their company and supply chain practices in the future and are committed to the transformation of the industry. Circularity is one of the priorities of Global Fashion Agenda to be able to reach fundamental change in the industry. In 2017, they established the 2020 circular fashion system commitment that is signed by 93 companies that represent 207 brands and 12% of the global fashion market. For most of the companies, their targets & progress are published1.

Last but not least, the procurement officer of the Dutch government on garments is commanding recycled content in all uniforms (army, police etc.) and work wear (road workers, lawyers etc.). In 2020, at least 5% of all (public) garments must be of recycled material. By 2050, it must be 100% (see graph)2.

To 2020, the next 4 years contracts will be commissioned in the following categories:

Road trip circular textiles through The Netherlands, Belgium & Germany

As a follow-up of CSR Sri Lanka and CSR Netherlands roadmap, the idea is to invite (on own travel expense) the main textile production companies of Sri Lanka like MAS Holdings, BRANDIX, Timex Garments, Polytex Garments, Quantum Clothing and Trendy Wear for a circular textiles trade mission to The Netherlands and neighboring countries. Together with representatives of CSR Sri Lanka, the total group will be max 15.

The full cycle factories (incl. spinning) are represented by CEO level and technical (spinning) officers.
As circular textiles do have a strong design component (designing for disassembly), AOD can participate as well.
Sri Lankan government officials, sector associations and donors should only participate when they guarantee to co-invest in the pilot phase of the ‘joint recycling plant’ in Sri Lanka.

Elements of the program will entail field visits and discussions with circular textile experts, technologies, installations and potential buyers, like:

• UpSet and Clothes the Circle (circular consortium Netherlands-India)
• Reshare/Sympany (textile waste collectors)
• Wieland (sorting machine)
• Frankenhuis (fiber recycling plant)
• Saxcell/Mestic (chemical recycling labs)
• Pure Renewables (mechanical/chemical cotton recycling)
• TU/e & ArtEZ (circular design)
• Ministry of Defence (circular procurement)
• Workwear brands/buyers (Schijvens, Puijenbroek, Groenendijk)
• Sportswear, other brands (Asics, Ikea)
• Modint (Sector association & contactpoint Dutch Circular Textile Valley)
• Loopalife, I-did, Omar Munie (circular textile producers)
• Circular textile experts (e.g. Anton Luiken)
• ReMo/Ecochain (transparency on circular textiles)
• SER (contactpoint Dutch covenant sustainable textiles)
• German covenant sustainable textiles
• CSR Europe (European entry point and scaling partner)
• EU Brussels
• …

The program will be detailed in based on needs, demand and availability.


On the road towards circular textiles

Road map for the Dutch textile industry