We’re putting 40 million kgs of textile waste to work along with GIZ, Concordia Textiles and Purfi Global

We’re putting 40 million kgs of textile waste to work along with GIZ, Concordia Textiles and Purfi Global

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Clearly, waste is one of the textile industry’s greatest challenges — while post-consumer waste or used clothes represents the third highest form of municipal waste coming from households in India, pre-consumer waste is globally landfilled or incinerated to the tune of approximately 15 million kgs per year. All this waste has a significant cost — to the people who manage it, to the industry that loses almost 400 million euro in raw material, and to the environment.

A problem of this size needs a solution that’s equally ambitious combined with collaboration and on-ground action. Enviu has found just the right alchemy in the form of a partnership with GIZ, Belgian corporate Concordia Textiles and the revolutionary Purfi Global as our key technology partner. The collaboration with Concordia and Enviu is funded through the develoPPP programme that (GIZ) GmbH implements on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Enviu has joined hands with this team to sort and re-use 40 million kgs of textile waste while creating over 5,000 jobs with a clear plan to make this happen — we call it “Putting Waste to Work”, an ambitious partnership under our Reweave venture building programme.

So, what’s the plan?

Running over three years until 2024, we’re creating a value chain for improved textile waste management by tackling three main bottlenecks we found during our analysis of the market to see what is blocking change: sorting infrastructure, better recycling technologies, and building capacities and capabilities for all stakeholders. 

Tackling the key bottleneck in increasing the re-use of textile waste — sorting.

The challenge: Our research found that a lot of value of waste is lost when different types of waste are mixed and disposed of either at the cutting table or further down the chain by waste workers and aggregators. Further, while more and more brands have targets to reduce or re-use their waste, their manufacturing facilities where the waste is actually produced have very few options beyond selling the waste to informal waste workers and hoping for the best. With this ad hoc system, there is also very little transparency for brands on where their waste is actually going. Finally, some kinds of waste are perceived as “better” than others — while large cutting pieces might get sold and re-used, some waste categories like yarn waste or smaller scraps are simply landfilled or downcycled (usually as toxin-emitting fuel in factories).

What we’re doing about it: We have set up a pilot sorting centre in Chennai with a capacity of sorting 3 million kgs of waste per year, with a second larger volume centre planned for Tirupur with a capacity of 20-30 million kgs of waste per year. These centres will become a one-stop-hub for any and all kinds of waste to be sent for sorting, processing and connecting with sustainable solutions, and we aim to do so for 40 million kgs of waste over the project period. Supporting this will be an online tracker to trace waste flows so brands can more confidently report on their sustainability targets regarding waste. That’s not all — we are also creating a new value chain to provide sorted waste packages to solution providers like recyclers and upcyclers and aim to create a market for any and all kinds of waste.

Creating and improving livelihoods for waste workers, with at least half being women

The challenge: While sorting can sometimes be seen as a one-size-fits-all process, we’ve realised that to truly support businesses reusing waste (recyclers, upcyclers, etc.), sorting needs to be customised so that “re” businesses can rely on a single source for consistent feedstock, allowing them to focus on their core products and services. While there is a universe out there of individual waste workers and waste worker collectives, and they have made huge strides in the management of most forms of dry waste (paper, plastic, thermocol, etc.), there is a big knowledge gap when it comes to textiles, such as the complexity of different fibre blends, what is and is not recyclable, how to sort for recycling, and potential customers for these forms of waste. This knowledge gap means waste workers are not as easily able to monetise textile as they are other forms of waste and adds to the textile mountain piling up in landfills and incinerators. The issue is also directly related to gender, as a large majority of India’s ~4 million waste workers are women, meaning closing the textile knowledge gap would directly have an impact on women’s social and cultural status in Indian society. What we’re doing about it: Our pilot centre in Chennai currently has an all-women staff who have been trained on sorting waste to spec for Purfi. This pilot facility is being used as a testing ground to analyse and validate the business case. Once perfected, we intend to expand its capacity to 20-30 million kgs per year and employ over 200 waste workers, with at least half being women. The scaled facility will also have a whole new customer base, and we are seeking partnerships with recyclers, up-cyclers and other businesses needing sorted waste as a feedstock. Everything we learn about sorting through our centres will then be turned into training curricula for other waste management organisations who can use it to build textile waste management verticals backed by expertise and sound technical know-how. Through these partnerships, we intend to train a total of 5,275 waste workers on sorting and monetising textile waste, with at least 2,500 of them being women.

Connecting sorting with improved recycling technologies to increase the quantity and quality of textiles being turned into new textiles.

The challenge: While India is both one of the world’s largest producers and recyclers of textile, there is a somewhat off-kilter relationship between these two industries. On one hand, the domestic production of textiles creates vast quantities of waste on which there is little official data. To top that, India is also one of the world’s largest importers of textile waste, both pre- and post-consumer, meaning India bears a “double burden” of both domestic and imported waste. India does have a vibrant textile recycling industry, but much of it is mechanical recycling that has several limitations in terms of types and processing of waste, and most of them are using imported rather than domestic waste — this is the gap we aim to close.

What we’re doing about it: On one hand, through our sorting centre, we aim to connect recyclers with sorted domestically generated waste. On the other hand, we aim to bring to India advanced recycling technologies that can handle a wider range of waste types. Our key technology partner Purfi Globalhas a patented technology that not only recycles but rejuvenates waste into as-good-as-virgin quality fibres. In 2022-23, we will focus on rejuvenating white cotton waste (pre-consumer) and denim (both pre- and post-consumer), adding more colours and blends next year. Most revolutionary will be that next year Purfi will introduce their elastane-removal technology, making it capable of handling a wider range of blends and tough to recycle materials.

What does this mean for you?

Brands & manufacturers will be able to give us their waste and receive it in the form of rejuvenated i.e. as good as virgin fibre, leading to truly circular and traceable waste flows. Over the course of the project, we intend to procure 30 million kgs of waste, at least 20 million of which will go back to the brands to re-make into new products.

Recyclers, upcyclers and other solution providers will be able to specify the precise type and quantity of waste they need month on month and seamlessly source it from our sorting centre. Over the project period, we intend to provide at least 15 million kgs of sorted waste packages to various solution providers.

Waste Management Organisations and Waste Worker Collectives will be able to build textile waste management verticals in-house through on-the-job training and a sorting curriculum. Over the course of the programme, we intend to train 3,000 waste workers and enable them to monetise textile waste.

The industry at large will have access to everything we learn through our open source knowledge sharing — what is the business model of setting up a sorting centre? How do different kinds of waste get sorted and re-used? What methodology did we use to build a new waste management value chain? All this and more will be shared widely on Enviu’s Reweave website, social channels, and beyond to enable the industry to emulate, replicate and gain inspiration from our work.

Finally, by combining impact with business goals, we believe our work will continue far beyond the project’s lifetime — we hope to achieve this by not only creating robust self-sustaining ventures and value chains but also providing other industry players with a roadmap to replicate our models. 

Who we are

A group of companies with the combined network, knowledge, and expertise to make all of this happen!

The Putting Waste to Work projects sits right at the intersection of business and impact, and each partner contributes to this goal in their own unique way. GIZ implements the project on behalf of BMZ under their develoPPP funding programme, that provides the perfect structure to combine private-public goals and expertise. Concordia Textiles, a Belgian vertically integrated textile manufacturer, together with Purfi Global, provides the network and game-changing technology needed to move beyond recycling and achieve true rejuvenation. Finally, Enviu as the implementation partner brings expertise in building social and circular ventures at scale and works on ground to manage physical waste flows to support the industry in closing its loop.

We need all hands on deck to put this waste to work!

If you’d like to send us your waste for sorting or rejuvenation, if you’d like to source sorted waste for your solutions, or if you’d like to help train waste workers, get in touch with us at puttingwastetowork@enviu.org

Putting Waste to Work is a cooperation project by:

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