30 lessons learned about post-consumer textile waste in India 

30 lessons learned about post-consumer textile waste in India 

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India is one of the largest producers, employers and consumers of fashion. But perhaps more surprisingly, India is also the second largest importer of post-consumer waste (yes: they import old clothing for recycling) this combined with a  growing consumer market creating textile waste creates a“double burden” in the country. Despite this there is no formal collection or sorting infrastructure for end of life textiles. Consequently around 80% of textile waste ends up in landfill, polluting the earth and causing toxic gas emissions. On top of this, an estimated 1.5-4 million waste workers in India work in collecting, repairing and reselling used clothing. This large group of waste workers are often lower caste underprivileged groups, mostly women, with an average income of $1,50-$3,00 per day. 

The problem is huge, but so is the impact and business potential in turning textile waste into a valuable resource. For every 1,000 tons of textile waste handled, research suggests that twenty decent jobs can be created, with each ton of re-used fibre creating an additional seven jobs. Solving India’s textile waste problem has the potential to unlock an entirely new job market for waste workers! There is the potential of unlocking an entirely new job market for waste workers! 

But when we started to research post-consumer waste in India to be able to address these issues, it felt like a black box. No one could really tell us where the waste was, what volumes there are, or who collects is. To get a clear picture of where value chain interventions were required, we got busy with  extensive research, conducting over 50+ interviews with waste pickers, recyclers, collectors, upcyclers, craftswomen, innovators, government parties and more. These interviews were supplemented with on the ground visits to waste facilities through-out India together with our partner CAIF. Together with CAIF we will build capacity and skills amongst waste workers, and build successful circular enterprises to reclaim value from textile waste,creating dignified jobs with the support of the IKEA Foundation. 

At the same time, together with GIZ and Concordia Textiles we’re building sorting centres and working together with brands and manufacturers to create the demand for and supply of textile waste. We’re bringing in and commercialising solution providers like PurFi to 100% rejuvenate waste into new fibres. The collaboration with Concordia and Enviu is funded through the develoPPP programme that GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit) implements on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Sharing is caring, and more is more impact

It wouldn’t feel right if we kept all this  knowledge we accumulated to ourselves. If we could do it on our own, we wouldn’t be dreaming big enough. We want  to share it so that others who want to do something about post-consumer waste in India can start a couple of steps ahead from where we started. This is why we decided to launch a series of articles sharing our learnings on collection, sorting, recycling and more. So, please, take a deep dive into textile waste in India!

👀 Chapter 1: What does post-consumer textile waste in India look like?

🧺 Chapter 2: How is textile waste collected?

🧶 Chapter 3: How is textile waste sorted?

♻️ Chapter 4: Recycling, upcycling or downcycling – what can we do with post-consumer textiles?

🤔 Chapter 5: What are the problems in the bigger system?

So, what’s next?

The chain is long, fragmented, and informal; and there are few good solutions for dirty and torn post-consumer textile waste. But that doesn’t mean it is impossible. At Enviu we love a good challenge. 

We build businesses that create fundamental change. We leapfrog innovation and build on what is already there to challenge the status quo of each broken system. . Our work spans multiple industries, From driving the transition towards a zero-footprint maritime industry  and closing the tap on plastic waste by making reuse the new norm, to setting up a 0% loss food value chain and realising a fair and circular apparel production value chain. 

In short, we’ve set our sights on some of the world’s biggest problems and have some game-changing plans up our sleeves!  

Within our Reweave venture building program we’re building ventures that focus on sustainable production and creating value from waste. From recycling textile waste into new yarns and fabrics and producing without an environmental footprint, to sorting and collecting textile waste. All with 100% respect for our employees.

Together with CAIF and the support of the Ikea Foundation we’re creating new solutions to solve the textile waste problem in India. We’re currently looking at:

  • Implementing formal, streamlined and methods of collecting textile waste at households 
  • Training waste workers to effectively sort waste

New use-cases for old and dirty textiles. If you have an interesting suggestion, comment or would like to be included in our approach, please contact siegfried@enviu.org

With GIZ and Concordia Textiles, we’re building the technology and infrastructure needed to build a lasting ecosystem. We’re currently looking at:

  • Rejuvenating cotton and denim waste with Purfi
  • Seeking other solution providers interested in sourcing various kinds of sorted waste
  • Waste management organisations who want to join forces to build in-house textile waste management verticals and train their workers 

The collaboration with Concordia and Enviu is funded through the develoPPP programme that GIZ implements on behalf of BMZ. If you’d like to join us, write to us at puttingwastetowork@enviu.org

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