In a circular economy, all products should be designed so as to be either biodegradable, recyclable or a combination of both (by separating individual parts). Through recycling, all materials and components in a product are recovered for use in new products or processes, thus avoiding any waste generation. In fact, all parts of a product should be acknowledged and treated as valuable components for future potential products or processes.
Yet, the materials of a product have very different properties. Some types of materials are suitable for biodegradation, while others are only suitable for recycling (and still other can be either biodegraded or recycled, e.g. viscose).
Products suitable for recycling are those made out of plastics, metals or other non-renewable materials (such as minerals or raw oil). As some parts of a product may be biodegradable, it is important that the non-biodegradable, recyclable parts are separated, recovered and possibly reconditioned. Instead of biodegradation, these should be made accessible and useful for new products or processes in society.
In the fashion, apparel, outdoor and sportswear industry, we have many products that are either totally or partly made of polyester, nylon, acrylic, plastic, metal or similar material. All this material should be recovered at the product’s end of use. Thus, careful consideration should be given at the design and sourcing stage to how these recyclable parts can be separated from the product, if necessary, and then recovered through various steps for material recycling.
It is also important to distinguish between chemical and mechanical recycling. Today we use different recycling methods for different types of materials:
- For cotton: Recycling of cotton typically occurs through mechanical means, i.e. by ripping and shreading of the cotton fabrics and then spinning the shredded fiber into new cotton yarn.
- For polyester: Recycling of polyester is a chemical process. The most well-known company for polyester recycling is the Japanese company Teijin.