The New Cotton Project, which started in October 2020 aimed to establish a circular value chain for commercial garment production. Central to its endeavour was the use of Infinited Fiber technology to regenerate end-of-life textiles into a new man-made cellulosic fibre known as “Infinna,” which is described as looking and feeling “just like virgin cotton.”

The fibre was spun into yarns and manufactured into various types of fabric which were designed, produced and sold by global retailers adidas, and H&M with the help of Stella McCartney.

An Adidas by Stella McCartney tracksuit and an H&M printed jacket and jeans were said to be the “first” products produced through a collaborative circular consortium of this scale.

The culminating phase of the project, which occurred in March 2024, saw the consortium engage in a policy roundtable with EU policymakers, conduct public seminars and webinars, and present a white paper titled ‘Driving the Transition Toward Circular Textiles’, alongside an environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) analysing the entire value chain.

Eight factors for successfully scaling fibre-to-fibre recycling

Amongst the achievements of the New Cotton Project, the consortium identified eight key factors for the successful scaling of fibre-to-fibre recycling:

  1. Embracing circular value chains: Textile circularity requires new forms of collaboration and open knowledge exchange among different actors in circular ecosystems. These ecosystems must involve actors beyond traditional supply chains and previously disconnected industries and sectors, such as the textile and fashion, waste collection and sorting and recycling industries, as well as digital technology, research organisations and policymakers. To function effectively, ecosystems require alignment of priorities, goals, and methods, learning from others’ needs and techno-economic possibilities, and a fundamental shift in mindsets and business models towards circularity. Open knowledge sharing and disseminating lessons are crucial for inspiring industry transitions.
  2. Designing for circularity: Designers should consider the end-of-life scenario when creating new styles, ensuring easy recycling and long-term use of products through repair, rental, resale, and sharing services, and promoting recycling for increased feedstock potential.
  3. Investing in infrastructure: To increase circular garment production, technological innovation and infrastructure development are needed for end-of-use textiles collection, sorting, and mechanical pre-processing. Current technologies struggle to identify garment layers, complex fibre blends, or deviations in feedstock quality. Feedstock preprocessing requires collaboration across the value chain and stronger economic incentives.
  4. Enhancing data quality and availability: The shift towards a circular textiles industry is hindered by a lack of data, with market quantities often used as a proxy for post-consumer textiles. The data is often outdated, and incomplete, and national waste figures may not align. Textile-to-textile recyclers need more reliable data, and policy monitoring for Extended Producer Responsibility schemes should standardise reporting requirements and encourage digitisation for automated reporting and near-real-time availability of high-quality textile data.
  5. Continual research and development across the value chain: The New Cotton Project suggests Infinna fibre offers a sustainable alternative to traditional cotton and viscose fabrics while maintaining performance and aesthetics. However, scaling fibre-to-fibre recycling requires ongoing research and development across the value chain, including sorting systems, chemical recycling, and manufacturing processes. Ongoing innovation collaborations in the processing method between technologies and brands are crucial for further development.
  6. Thinking beyond lower impact fibres: The New Cotton Project’s third-party verified LCA indicates that cellulose carbamate fibre, produced with renewable electricity could lower environmental impacts compared to conventional cotton and viscose. However, the analysis emphasises the need for improved garment quality and full life span usage to mitigate environmental impacts, despite the variations in primary fibre performance.
  7. Citizen engagement: The EU has identified culture as one of the key barriers to the adoption of the circular economy within Europe. An Adidas quantitative consumer survey conducted across three key markets during the project revealed that there is still confusion around circularity in textiles, which has highlighted the importance of effective citizen communication and engagement activities.
  8. Cohesive legislation: Legislation is crucial for sustainable textile practices, and a cohesive approach is needed for successful implementation. Understanding the link between legislation like Extended Producer Responsibility and the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation will help stakeholders prepare for these new regulations.

The growing demand for recycled materials necessitates the collection and sorting of end-of-use textiles. Mechanical and chemical recycling solutions are needed, with closed-loop and open-loop recycling paths effectively implemented. Rethinking low-quality reusable textile exports outside the EU is crucial, avoiding unverified demand and inadequate waste management. The textiles industry needs a holistic approach, focusing on collaboration, knowledge exchange, and scaling innovative recycling technologies. Addressing gaps in quality textile flow data and developing collecting and sorting systems is crucial. The New Cotton Project showcases the potential of recycled fibres like Infinna, emphasising the need for holistic value chain management and ongoing research for sustainable textiles.

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