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

To kick things off, we wanted to understand better what textile waste in India looked like. What is the quality? What volumes are we talking about? We spoke to various Indian waste collectors and recyclers to better understand the current situation. Here are our key learnings:

  • Clothes are handed down: Donations and the informal passing on of clothes ensure that clothes in India can have multiple lives and stay in longer use than in the West. Research shows that 74%* of Indians discard their clothing by donating it (both formally and informally, to friends & family). 
  • Sales at informal bazaars: Much of the post-consumer waste gets re-sold in informal bazaars and markets where lower socio-economic groups shop — the biggest consumers of post-consumer “waste” in India. For example, the ‘Waghri community’ collects, repairs and resells old clothing but is considered a “criminal nomadic tribe.” There is a need to formalise these “grassroots enterprises” and focus on including them. Today, they are often excluded from existing and planned future business models.
  • Clothes get used till the end: Old clothes are repurposed as cleaning clothes, bathmats or creative alternative uses. This makes the overall textile quality poor, as chemicals and high levels of usage make the textiles dirty or damaged.
  • Textile waste is of low quality: Frequent donation & the thorough reuse of used clothes as wipes make the quality of the textile poor, and hard to recycle.
  • Waste continues to increase:  A growing market for fast fashion in India ensures that the volumes of waste continue to increase. A survey of Indian consumers showed that 68% of the population shops monthly for clothes, and the average wardrobe consists of 45+ pieces of clothing.

How we plan to solve it 

One of the ways we are solving this is in collaboration with CAIF with the support of the IKEA Foundation. We are looking at ways to downcycle post-consumer textile waste of poor quality. These lower-grade materials are often too dirty or torn to be recycled and end up at a landfill. Therefore we are researching:

  • Ways to melt textiles. With low-quality textiles, we can create a flexible material from which we can make items like buttons. This material could also be repeatedly melted and re-used
  • Ways to create a type of felt (also called: non-woven material) that could see use in insulation and acoustic.

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*Bairagi N (2017) Recycling of Post-Consumer Apparel Waste in India: Channels for Textile Reuse. J Textile Sci Eng 8: 331. doi: 10.4172/2165- 8064.1000331

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