1. Introduction

In Europe we are facing a growing mountain of used textiles. The accelerating consumption and disposal practices cause textiles entering the market to reach their end-of-use rapidly. In North-West Europe (NWE) alone, research shows that around 4,700 kilo tonnes of post-consumer textile (PCT) waste is generated every year. Still, only around 30% of PCT in NWE are collected separately while the rest is lost in household waste. In the best-case scenario, these textiles are sold in the second-hand market both locally and internationally. In NWE this average of rewearable textiles is around 64% of collected textiles. The remaining 36% is considered non-rewearable textiles due to their unsuitability for the second-hand market or the market saturation that second-hand clothing is currently facing. Almost all of these textiles are currently being downcycled, incinerated or landfilled while less than 1% of all textiles produced are currently recycled into new ones.

Automated sorting technologies could enable the industry to turn non-rewearable textiles that currently have no other destination than downcycling, landfill or incineration into valuable feedstock for high-value recycling. One of these technologies is the Fibersort, a Near Infrared (NIR) based technology able to categorise textiles based on their fibre composition, structure and colour. While the technology is promising, identified socio-cultural, physical, economic and regulatory barriers must first be overcome to ensure its successful implementation. In May 2019, the Fibersort Interreg NWE project published an overview of these potential barriers for the implementation of Fibersort technology for collectors and sorters. This overview reflected macro trends in textiles, and identified their implications for the importance, fit and potential of the Fibersort technology.

This report is the final publication of the Fibersort Interreg NWE project. As such, it explores the critical success factors to address these key barriers (socio-cultural, physical, economic) for an effective market uptake of recycled PCT and automated sorting technologies, such as the Fibersort, in the long term in North-West Europe. The research builds on interviews with industry stakeholders as well as publicly available data and previous project research. At the end of the report, recommendations are formulated for stakeholder groups across the value chain (collectors, sorters, recyclers, manufacturers, brands and policymakers) to address the barriers outlined.