Up to 26% of textile waste in Europe could be recycled to make new clothes, says McKinsey

Each European generates more than 15 kilos of textile waste per year and in 2030 this could rise to 20 kilos


Between 18% and 26% of textile waste generated in Europe could be recycled to make new clothes, according to a report by consultancy firm McKinsey & Company, which indicates that less than 1% of textile waste is currently used for this purpose and that only 30 to 35% are classified.

“If the full potential of technical recycling were utilized and more textiles were collected, between 18% and 26% of textile waste could be reused to make new garments by 2030,” said Ignacio Marcos, Senior Partner and CEO of McKinsey & Company’s consumer sustainability field.

Marcos pointed out that “large-scale recycling of textiles would not only reduce CO2 emissions by 4 million tonnes, but would also create a profitable industry with some 15,000 jobs in Europe and a potential market of between 6 and 8 billion euros. euros in sales”, with possible annual returns of 20% to 25% for the recycling industry.

These are the data presented in the report “Scaling textile cycling in Europe: Creating value from waste”, prepared by the consultancy, which analyzes and develops scenarios for the evolution of the volumes of textile waste and the rates of collection and recycling until 2030.


According to this study, each European produces on average more than 15 kilos of textile waste per year – some 7.5 million tonnes in Europe – and in 2030 this figure could reach 20 kilos (more than 30% more). The largest proportion of waste, 85%, is produced in private households and corresponds to clothing and home textile products.

Of this volume, less than 1% of post-consumer waste is currently recycled to produce new textile products in the 27 countries of the European Union and Switzerland, while more than 65% of waste is transported directly to landfills or cremated, as detailed in the document.

McKinsey said the circular economy and waste recycling not only help reduce the environmental footprint of the textile industry, but also provide many opportunities for the sector.


In his view, industry-wide investment will be needed to scale technologies and closed-loop recycling processes that enable companies to reduce their impact on the environment.

In this sense, he argues that the expansion of closed-loop recycling could help reduce the environmental impact of fashion at the material level and, as these technologies mature, companies will need to integrate them into product development and adopt large-scale processes. ladder.

“To exploit the full potential of textile recycling, a total investment of 6 to 7 billion euros is needed by 2030 across the entire value chain, including collection, sorting and the construction of recycling centers. recycling,” explained Marcos.

As noted, investment in fibre-to-fibre recycling “is valuable not only for sustainability reasons”, but also because “new valuable raw materials would be created during recycling, which would enable greater textile production in Europe. and would create additional value for the industry.

The report highlights that currently one-third of all post-consumer clothing is collected and recycled, either to be resold as second-hand items or as recycled raw textile products (industrial rags or insulation materials, among other uses), and less than 1% of this material is recycled to recover or reuse the component fibers (cotton, polyester, etc.) for new garments.

McKinsey estimates that the textile recycling rate could increase to between 50% and 80% by 2030 and therefore the circular economy to produce textile fibers for new garments from textile waste could be increased between 18 % and 26%.

Sandra LucĂ­a, junior partner at McKinsey & Company in Spain, clarified that fiber-to-fiber recycling, in which textile fibers are transformed into new fibers for clothing, “is the most sustainable way to generate something new and of value from waste”.


This evolution towards the circular economy is facilitated by new technologies, such as the mechanical recycling of cotton (already implemented); innovative transformation into viscose fibers and chemical recycling for the reuse of polyester (in the test phase), according to the report.

However, the consultancy warned that collecting and preparing vintage clothing and textiles through small-scale, fragmented structures and largely manual work processes still faces significant challenges.

As noted, textile waste should be graded according to quality criteria, buttons and zippers should be removed, and fiber compositions should be clearly identified. In addition, many mixed fiber composite products pose a fiber-to-fiber recycling problem for which there is not yet a solution.

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