Go Green with Leigh: A Move Toward Circularity
With the quick integration of ‘fast fashion’ into global consumerism, clothing is increasingly treated as disposable. And due to the overconsumption of clothing, excessive use of nonrenewable sources, and waste generated from the production and consumption of textiles, the lifespan of clothing continues to shorten.
Along with discarded household fabrics like worn-out sheets, towels, and socks, waste from cut-and-sew factories and clothing manufacturers will most likely find its way into a landfill or an incinerator. The textile and clothing industries are considered to be one of the highest contributors to pollution globally. With a linear economic process, most textile and clothing production operations have adopted a “take-make-waste” principle – the use of a resource to make a product that is ultimately discarded as waste. This consumption and waste, as well as the effects of production, are major contributors to global pollution. According to the Bureau of International Recycling, more than 60% of all recovered clothing could be reused, 35% could be converted into wipers and fiber recycling, and only 5% would need to be discarded.
To better meet the demands of consumers and fast fashion without depleting sources of raw materials, textile and fiber producers must find closed-loop solutions for their operations. In developing these solutions, an operation adopts a circular economic process. Textiles reenter the life cycle rather than being wasted. Fibers, yarns, and fabrics are created from these discarded textiles and are used to manufacture a wide range of products.
Solid textile wastes (fabrics, thread, etc.) are generated at two levels: (1) preconsumer textile waste, including waste generated during production processes, such as fiber waste, fabric scrap, and yarn waste; and (2) postconsumer waste, including discarded household textiles. This waste is a heterogeneous mixture of natural and synthetic fibers like cellulose (cotton), polyester, silk, and other substances like buttons and zips. While the mixture of fibers is difficult to filter and recover, textile and fiber producers have developed ways to simplify the separation process.
The most common process of recycling textile fabric waste is by shredding and carding the waste without any chemicals to extract the fiber from the fabric. In some textile recycling situations, a chemical separation process may be necessary. Through recycling, new products are created from textile waste through a circular system. For example, textile waste can be transformed into thermal insulation products and added as a binder in hydraulic lime to form cement products. Upcycling – creating a product that is of higher quality than the recycled materials used to make it – and closed-loop recycling are the potential routes that maximize the conservation of resources like raw materials, water, and energy, with minimal environmental impact.
Leigh Fibers has been an active participant in searching for closed-loop solutions for the textile industry. As America’s largest processor of textile waste, their million-square-foot facility in Wellford, South Carolina, is dedicated to fiber reprocessing, research and development, quality control, warehousing, and administration.
Leigh Fibers is proud to keep billions of pounds of waste out of landfills and promote circular solutions at all levels of the textile industry. With their Circular Sustainability Partnership with Smartwool and Material Return – under industrial Commons – Leigh strives to build a value chain that will transform the industry and communities throughout the U.S. Smartwool is a performance apparel and accessories company currently based in Denver, Colorado. By working with Material Return and Leigh Fibers, they were able to take the waste produced in the production of socks and turn it into the yarn used to make more socks.
Learn more about our Circular Sustainability Partnership with Smartwool, Material Return, and Industrial Commons here.
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