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Sorting For Circularity Europe: An Evaluation And Commercial Assessment Of Textile Waste Across Europe



Comparability of analysis results amongst sorting facilities is fundamental in order to obtain reliable research outcomes. Therefore, speaking the same language is imperative. Key definitions as used throughout the Project are described below to ensure sorters, researchers and other parties involved in the research, or wishing to conduct further research building on these results, have a clear understanding of the categorisations used.


Bring banks

Unstaffed collection points for recyclable materials, including containers for textiles amongst other waste streams.


Chemical recycling

The processes by which fibres are broken down to the polymer or monomer level. There are diverse recycling technologies encompassed under this archetype, including amongst others pulping processes to recycle cotton and viscose, to solvent-based processes to recycle polyester and polycotton, to processes such as glycolysis, hydrolysis and enzymatic that take polyester and polyamide back to monomers.1



The colour of an item is considered the solid or dominant colour. If it is not possible to define one and the same dominant colour, the article is to be considered multicoloured.



An element present on a textile product (eg. fastener, button, zipper, fabric patch etc.) that may be a disruptor to the recycling process and will need to be removed before the product is suitable as feedstock for recycling.

  • Removable disruptors: for the purpose of this Project, it is defined that metal and plastic hardware are suitable to be removed prior to recycling activities
  • Non-removable disruptors: for the purpose of this Project, all other hardware found in textiles as well as combinations of different types of hardware are considered as non-removable for the purpose of fibre-to-fibre recycling activities.



Reprocessing discarded textiles to create new consumer or industrial products, in a process that is usually mechanical (cutting, shredding, bonding). Discarded textiles are no longer in their original form, and new products do not re-enter the textile supply chain, resulting in a subsequent use that is of lower value than the original source of the material.2


Eco-modulation fees

Differentiated Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) fees for producers based on certain criteria which strive to support design changes towards environmental sustainability of their products.3



Represents the 27 European Union countries after the UK left the EU from 1 February 2020.


EU Waste Framework Directive

The European Union Directive that sets the basic concepts and definitions related to waste management, including definitions of waste, recycling and recovery, in order to protect the environment and human health. It came into force in December 2008.


Fibre-to-fibre recycling

In the context of this Project, this emcompasses all textile recycling processes where the output is used again in this specific sector, in similar applications for which it was first developed.



Categories by which collected used textiles are sorted into for different reuse and recycling purposes, which are sold on different local and global markets.4 The Fraction excludes footwear.


Low value textiles

For the purpose of this study, non-rewearable and low-value rewearable textiles are referred to as low value textiles. On one hand, this includes non-rewearable textiles going into downcycling, wiping, fibreto-fibre recycling, energy recovery and ultimate waste. Additionally, this definition includes low-value rewearable textiles, those currently deemed rewearable by sorting facilities and sold in the second-hand market at low prices, but where market demand is expected to stop when volumes collected rise.


Mechanical recycling

The process by which textiles are cut, shredded and opened into fibres that are usable for diverse applications. They may include downcycling applications such as fibres for insulation, filling or non-woven for automotive and other industries as well as fibre-to-fibre applications. For the purpose of this Project, the potential feedstock for mechanical recycling is only presented for fibre-to-fibre recycling.



Products that are made from one layer or type of textile.5



Products that are made from more than one distinct layer, each of which may be composed of different materials.6 There are two types of multi material garments:

  • Case 1: True multilayer = “Several main layers”. Refers to an article consisting of at least a second layer representing more than 1/3 of the surface of the article (eg. jacket lining). The composition of up to two different layers were captured and allocated to the same product using the app.
  • Case 2: Monolayer + others = “1 main layer and 1 or more auxiliary or minority layers”: article made up of a main layer with the presence of other minority layers representing less than 1/3 of the surface (eg. pocket bottom, badge, yoke, embroidery, lace). This article was captured as ‘with a fabric disruptor’.



Garments and household textiles that cannot be reused in their original form and are made from one or multiple types or layers of textiles. This category is known as “material reuse” among many textile collectors/sorters7 and includes:

  • Materials for downcycling (recycling / garneting): garment textile products which are meant to be shredded or garnetted (opening up the fabric into a fluffy, fibrous condition for reuse),8 with a purpose of future use of these fibres for recycling into insulation, automotive, mattress filling, yarn or other.
  • Materials for wiping: various mainly cotton rags used for cleaning machinery as well as used for hand wiping.9
  • Materials for fibre-to-fibre recycling: garment textile products which are meant to be shredded or cut into smaller pieces with a purpose of future use of these materials for recycling into outputs used again in this specific sector, in similar applications for which it was first developed.
  • Fibres and materials destined to become refuse-derived fuel: fibres and materials from garment textile products that are used to produce Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) to ultimately produce energy and heat.10
  • Ultimate waste: wet, damp, damaged garment textile products which are not fit to be sold in reuse or recycling markets.


Post-consumer textiles (PCT)

Textiles that have been disposed of after consumption and use by the citizen or end-users of commercial or industrial institutions, processed by a specialised textile sorter.



Garments that can be reused in their original form, for their original purpose. This category is known as “product reuse” among many textile collectors/sorters.11 Rewearables are categorised into cascading qualities, with the Cream, or highest quality, and Vintage categories usually being sold domestically, while other qualities categorised from A to C or 1 to 3, mostly being exported abroad.