We have internalized that the glass goes to the green container;
plastic, yellow and cardboard, blue.
But we keep throwing clothes into the waste bin.
In Spain, some 900,000 tons of clothing are discarded per year, and 88% ends up in landfills, according to the report
Analysis of the collection of used clothing in Spain
The other 12% goes to clothing containers and, from there, to modern plants that select the garments —even those in poor condition— and reuse or recycle them.
The new waste law imposes that in 2025 the town halls —also the small ones— will have to collect textile waste separately, which is why there will be a boom in clothing containers in the streets: Madrid and Malaga, for example, are going to duplicate those installed.
Fashion brands will also have to get involved in the collection of used garments in their stores, they will not be able to throw away the surplus —so second-hand options will grow— and they will have to create consortiums to manage their waste.
These are the changes that the new recycling challenge will bring.
The second hand goes from shabby to 'cool': "It is becoming more and more fashionable"
“In two years, a system must be installed in all cities so that citizens can deposit textile waste, which in addition to clothing includes towels, sheets, upholstery… In fashion stores you can leave used clothing, and we will see the number of containers multiply. clothes that are on the streets”, summarizes Enric Carrera, director of the Textile Research and Industrial Cooperation Institute of Terrassa (Intexter) of the Polytechnic of Catalonia (UPC).
“However, the challenge is not so much to collect, as what to do with it, because Africa is beginning to not want European used clothing to develop its own industry, and with the new law it is no longer allowed to burn surplus production, so that these 900,000 tons can become 1.2 million that will have to be treated.
We are facing a challenge of a spectacular magnitude”, he continues.
For now, most cities allow clothing containers from social organizations to be placed on their streets, although some town halls are beginning to also install municipal collection points.
Some examples: Madrid now has 770 containers and by the end of the year it intends to reach 1,600, while Malaga will double the current 233.
Vigo had 50 and increased them to 300 last year, anticipating the regulations.
According to the
Analysis of the collection of used clothing in Spain,
Prepared by Moda re- (Cáritas entity) in 2021 and the most complete to date, there are currently some 21,000 of them in Spain, most of which (more than 19,500) are in the public space and belong to social entities , although there are also some (more than 1,500) in parishes and shopping centers, to which are added some 700 municipal clean points.
Municipal container to collect used clothes recently installed in the center of Madrid.
Their number will grow a lot.
"In the next two years the streets are going to be flooded with textile containers, we are already beginning to see it in some cities, but it will reach all of them," says Manuel León, coordinator of Moda re- (Cáritas entity).
It is very difficult to specify how much they can grow, but if you want to go from the current 12% to 30%, you would have to triple them at least.
The same report (which will be updated this year) indicates that some 108,000 tons per year reach the current network, about 19 kilos per person per year —Ecological Transition does not have different data.
The path to reuse
Where does the shirt or pants deposited in these containers go?
In general, to one of the five large textile recycling centers that now exist in Spain.
A visit to one of them, the one owned by Koopera in Valencia, allows us to understand the process followed by used clothing on its way to reuse.
Trucks and vans arrive every day at the huge warehouse in Ribarroja de Turia — which annually manages 6,000 tons of used clothing from more than 700 collection points — with the garments collected in the Cáritas containers, which they deposit in bags in a kind of big container.
The clothing separation line of the Koopera plant in Ribarroja (Valencia).
From there they are sent to a long conveyor belt that elevates them towards a yellow industrial structure inside which there are several rooms with a separation line.
"We classify each garment according to various parameters, the season, the quality, the gender...", explains Emi Carmona, coordinator of this social enterprise.
In each cabin there are two people, a tutor and a social integration apprentice;
first, they hit a button to bring up clothes;
then, they pass each element through a machine with a
that helps to carry out that first screening.
"Woman, dress, summer," says one of the apprentices.
"Pants, jeans, boy," says another.
Once the magic words have been pronounced, a strong mechanical breath sends the garment to another conveyor belt, which will deposit it in one of the more than 60 baskets that await the end of this process.
"The highest quality clothing (over 10%) is sold in our Moda re- stores," explains Carmona.
"The one with less quality but in good condition is exported to countries in Africa and the Middle East (70%).
There is a third option that is to separate the clothes into threads (where another 10% ends up), which is called spinning;
For this we have a machine that checks the composition of the clothes with a laser, and it has a success rate of 99%”, she continues.
Koopera clothing recycling plant in Valencia.
What happens to the one that is useless for any of these things?
“About 10% of what comes to us is incinerated and converted into energy, it is what is called energy revaluation”, continues the coordinator.
In any case, it is important that all textile waste, even that which is in poor condition, is thrown into the used clothing container to go through this process.
In Koopera they also have another manual line, where they separate and classify clothes, but also shoes and accessories.
“So we can classify more clothes.
The shoes can be sent to the store, and we even take advantage of loose pairs, which in Africa are used to make products such as bags”, continues Carmona.
"All the plants that exist right now in Spain are manual treatment, but this is going to change very soon," predicts Igor González, president of Ecotextil —an association that advises fashion brands on recycling.
“There are companies that have asked for Next Generation European funds to start much more advanced plants,” he points out.
They can be from mechanical selection of the clothing, or from physical separation of the components (by composition of the garment) or even chemical (to break up the fibers)”.
The expert Enric Carrera explains that the physical separation involves grinding the garment to obtain threads, "although the result is still of medium-low quality", while the chemistry consists of dissolving the threads and then regenerating them.
“It's still a very expensive process,” he admits.
González considers that, with the new norm, the fashion brands themselves will have to encourage the development of treatment plants that help to reuse and recycle clothes.
"The producers will assume this expense with a fee, and they will have to finance the collection and treatment."
In fact, seven major brands —Decathlon, H&M, Ikea, Inditex, Kiabi, Mango and Tendam— have just created the Association for Textile Waste Management, an entity that by 2025 must manage its waste within the principle whoever pollutes, pays.
It is a figure similar to Ecoembes, which brings together packaging manufacturers to collect their own garbage.
The other fashion companies must join this association or create different ones.
Changes in clothing stores
Until that time arrives, companies are already adapting.
Mango, for example, has placed textile collection containers in all its stores and sends what it receives precisely to Koopera, an example that other brands are also following —such as El Corte Inglés— and which will be mandatory in 2025. Meanwhile, Primark encourages its customers to donate unwanted clothing at its own facilities, and aims to have all its clothing made from recycled materials "or more sustainably sourced" by 2030.
Recycling point for used clothing in the Mango store located on Paseo de Gracia in Barcelona.
Another novelty of the law is the prohibition of destroying unsold clothing surpluses, a very common practice in fashion.
Inditex, Zara's parent company, donates its surplus garments to non-profit insertion stores and social organizations such as Acnur, the Red Cross and Cáritas, while El Corte Inglés distributes them to more than 60 NGOs.
In fact, virtually all of the major brands in the industry have or are planning similar endowment arrangements.
This will translate into a boom in second-hand textiles, since more and more new unused garments will arrive at the same time that the collection of used ones will increase.
Moda re-, for example, has 120 stores in 84 Spanish cities, but it has also opened 20 used clothing spaces in different Alcampo supermarkets, a company that in turn donates its surplus to Moda re-.
Meanwhile, Humana has almost fifty establishments, some of them
to attract the younger public, which is no longer considering used clothing as tacky and increasingly sees it as something 'cool'.
"These stores allow us to dignify social delivery," says Manuel León, from Moda re-.
“Before, whoever needed it would go to his parish and they would give him a bag with clothes, which could be used or not.
Now, these people are given a check for an amount that they can redeem at our stores, so they go to one of our stores, choose what they want, and cash that coupon.
Others do not have to know if you pay with money or something else, and also vulnerable people can choose what suits them best ”, he continues.
A young woman looks at used clothes in the Humana Vintage store on Hortaleza street in Madrid.INMA FLORES
Another trend will be to mend the garments.
“Arranging clothes is subversive.
It is interesting that we buy, get tired of it and buy again.
Rehabilitation implies self-sufficiency, concentration and patience”, points out Marta D. Riezu, author of
La moda justa
(Anagrama, 2021), who advocates mending old clothes as a way of “dressing ethically”.
The perception of traditional patches, seen until now as something for the poor, is also changing and is already reaching the world of fashion: Zara, for example, has launched a platform that offers repair services for its garments, sales between individuals and donations. , and other brands test similar programs.
Igor González sums it up like this: “The best clothes are the ones that are used again, and we have to work to do it more and more”.
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