Business Opportunities in Textile and Apparel Recycling Sector

Textile recycling is not something that the present world is not aware off as it has been around for decades. With the rise in demand for sustainability, the value for textile waste is increasing and this surely will boom the recycling business around the world.

Textile recycling is the process of collecting and processing textile waste that would otherwise be thrown away to the landfill and turning them into new textile material. It is also to be noted that most of the recyclers are focused on the textile wastes of apparel industry due to the presence of high-value fibre like cotton and the business strategy discussed here will focus on this only.

At present, textile recycling business is based on the two processes of textile recycling, mechanical and chemical textile recycling and each of them is based on how the textile waste is processed. You can find more description on both of them here along with workings of different companies here. Thus to start with a commercialized business you would have to go through these three options which are as follows.
  1. Mechanical textile recycling business 
  2. Chemical textile recycling business
  3. Garment upcycling and garment recycling business 

1. Mechanical textile recycling business

This is the easiest recycling process as there is very little R&D involved. Moreover, mechanical recycling of textiles has been practised from a long time with recycled products ranging from rags, carpets, insulating materials, filling materials etc. But modern machines have made it possible for upcycled products such as yarns that can be used for apparel, making the process much profitable. 

The process for mechanical recycling is being discussed in details here. With garnett machine being the core of mechanical recycling, choosing a machine becomes the most important task and should be bought according to the final requirement. If the goal is to make downcycled fibres for making rags, carpets, fillings, insulating materials then the garnett machines will be much cheaper. 

There is a whole recycling hub at Panipat, Haryana who are using such machines to make downcycled recycled products. Since the purpose of these machines is to downgrade the wastes, there are very little conditions in waste requirement and any kind of textile waste that could be run on the machine. The output will be shoddy fibres which can then be used to make courser yarns, rags, carpets, insulating materials, filling materials etc upon mixing with some other fibres.

The modern garnett machines, on the other hand, can make a much profitable business. There are many companies along with their products in Alibaba business Platform. The comparison on these machines should be based on the production capacity, quality of the fibres recovered, costs, after-sale services, required raw material, the power consumption etc. Based on the scale of the business, machines with different production capacity should be selected. It is expressed in the terms of Kg/hr meaning how much output in the form of fibres can the machine produce given a continuous supply of raw material. An average machine can yield around 120-180Kg/hr while a high-end machine can output at 300-500Kg/hr depending on the textile waste (denser fabric like polyester will result to lesser productivity and fabrics such as knits, denim, loosely woven will give much higher productivity). 

There is an obvious increase in price for machines with higher production capacity. The second most important factor to look on is the quality of fibres as poor quality fibres cannon be processed to finer yarn decreasing the value of the recovered fibres. Also during consideration additional machines such as fabric cutting machines (used to cut fabric to smaller pieces), feeding machines for a different stage, dust collection box, machine cover shield, bale presser, warranty conditions, maintenance training etc.

After recovering the fibre, it has to be then mixed with virgin polyester or cotton fibres to increase the strength of the blended yarn. These blends can be in a different ratio depending on the final product. A higher percentage of virgin fibres will give a much finer yarn. To give an example, a blend of 45-55 poly-cotton will give 28s yarn.

With the fibres ready, the blended fibres can be sent through the open-end spinning process and the yarn is then ready for its apparel application. Following is a YouTube video showing the entire process starting from shredding to yarn making (Source: YouTube/Zafer Kaplan). 

Apart from this, there also has to be a steady supply of raw material which can be arranged by communicating with various waste-collecting vendors those who collect apparel waste both from industry and other sources. Also, there has to be a thorough study of the recycling market for estimation of the product price, requirements etc. You can refer the product listing page in Alibaba.  

2. Chemical textile recycling business

This is completely different from the above which takes an active knowledge of textile materials and chemistry even before there is a business plan. Most of the technology in chemical textile recycling are either in the development or various testing stages except for recycling cellulosic fibres from cotton. With most of the work based on research and development, it is going to require huge investments and partnerships from big apparel companies, academic institutions etc.

The sole purpose of the company should be to create a chemical process which would be able to differentiate and extract fibres from blends or convert one of fibre to the other both without downgrading the recycled product. The process should also be such that it can be commercialized and accessible in the future. There are a few companies who are targeting this recycling process due to its high potential such as Birla Cellulose, Lenzing, Re:newcell AB, PurFi, Evrnu etc. from which inspirations can be taken. Also with the use of chemicals involved, the process should be free of any harmful chemicals and sustainable in all aspects. These are just a few points which must be looked on as a starting point and as the research progresses so will the business.

3. Garment upscaling/recycling business

A different approach from the above, this recycling process takes in post-consumer goods and convert into valuable products such as fashionable apparel, accessories, home decors etc by reconstructing and redesigning those waste. This recycling business is probably the easiest to set up with a minimum of investments as it can also be done through boutique shops, online brands, social enterprises, cooperative with NGOs etc. Textile wastes can also be collected from the apparel industry such as leftover fabrics, cut fabrics etc as they are fairly cheap. 

The ultimate goal for the business should be to become recognized as a sustainable conscious entity which can challenge the clothing industry at some front. To start this business skilled workforce is a must as each waste is different and an individual should be able to visualize products of value form the available waste itself. Also, the presence of different sewing machine can help in creating unique products. Several Indian brands have made a name for themselves in this business namely Doodlage, Ka-Sha, Péro, Eco Wings, Jaggery etc which can be looked upon as a reference.

To comprise both of them, starting a recycling business would first involve thorough research on the market followed by knowing the recycling technology. This would help in choosing from the different types of textile waste and the recycled product which your business will be focusing on. There should also be a set goal to sustain the business which can be done with support from apparel manufacturers, retail brands, academic institutions, social enterprises etc. will help a great deal both in business and development.

Soumyadeep Saha

Soumyadeep Saha holds a Master's Degree in Fashion Technology from NIFT, New Delhi. He is also a graduate in apparel production. His area of interest includes Quality Assurance and technology implementations in Apparel Production.

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