How Much Clothes are Really Recycled?

30%? 25%? Let’s begin with the United States. In the year 2017 (data analysis can be delayed by a couple years) just 15.6% of textiles were recycled.

In Europe, the rates are similar—15-20% of textiles are collected (50% downcycled, 50% reused). The rest (~85%) are incinerated or tossed in landfills. These facts are especially alarming given that 63% of textile fibers are made from petrochemicals. Germany, however flexes recycling rates around 70%.

In China, the world’s leading producer and consumer of textiles, the reuse and recycling rates are <1%.

These statistics sound grim—but they provide opportunity for innovation, creativity and human brilliance. For example, partnering with the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA), H&M is developing ‘garment-to-garment’ recycling processes, employing fungal enzymatic processes.

Everlane, a direct-to-consumer brand (no storefront) exhibits transparent production and recycles plastic bottles into sustainable materials—the company estimates 100 million bottles to be recycled through their supply chain. Arguably the largest titan in the business, Zara (Inditex-Zara), has committed to sourcing 100% sustainable materials by 2025.

Furthermore, consumer behavior in disposal of clothing is experiencing positive trends. The secondhand market is exploding, donations, resale as well as new avenues of acquiring one’s style are sweeping across the industry. Here, the power of the consumer is growing.

How would you design solutions to best use both new and old resources sustainably?


“9 Brands Rethinking Textiles For The Circular Economy”. Current Daily, 2018,

“Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2017 Fact Sheet”. Epa.Gov, 2019,

“Chinese Textile Recycling: The Night Is Darkest Just Before Sunrise”. Global-Recycling.Info, 2019,

Sandin, Gustav, and Greg M. Peters. “Environmental Impact Of Textile Reuse And Recycling – A Review”. Journal Of Cleaner Production, vol 184, 2018, pp. 353-365. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.02.266.

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