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Editorial: Biodegradability, hybrids and recycling: routes to sustainability in the fibre, textile and apparel industry?
published in Issue 185, April 2017
Reflecting the growing importance of environmental sustainability, themes of recent editions of Performance Days – a functional fabric fair held in Munich, Germany – have included biodegradability, hybrids and recycling. Two of these topics are especially timely as manufacturers are looking increasingly at making fibres biodegradable and using recycled materials to address the growing environmental problem caused by waste. Worldwide, millions of tons of clothing and textile waste are thrown away each year – and most of this ends up in landfill. Unless radical steps are taken, this problem can only get worse. Manufacturers have responded by introducing fibres which are biodegradable. Also, many of these fibres are derived from renewable resources such as corn, sugar cane or cellulose as opposed to non-renewable resources such as petroleum. Additionally, it is claimed that the production of these "bio-based" fibres results in lower greenhouse gas emissions and a reduction in energy consumption. Manufacturers are also making fibres from recycled materials and these are attracting the interest of retailers including Zara. In this report, Robin Anson identifies a number of fibre types and brands which could help to reduce the impact of textile and clothing waste on the environment. However, he cautions that not all bio-based based fibres are biodegradable, and not all biodegradable fibres are bio-based. Also, devoting agricultural land to growing crops for fibres at the expense of food crops has proved controversial. There is also controversy over the recycling of garments by giving them a "second life". While some of these garments are sold in charity shops in developed countries, many are shipped to developing countries where they undermine employment in indigenous clothing industries.
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