June 21st, 2023

How source traceability can improve the circularity of the textile industry

The textile industry is one of the most important sectors in the global economy, providing employment, income, and essential products to millions of people. However, it is also one of the most resource-intensive and polluting industries, generating huge amounts of waste, greenhouse gas emissions, and water consumption. According to some estimates, the textile industry uses 79 billion cubic meters of water per year, produces 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, and discards 92 million tonnes of textile waste per year. These impacts pose serious threats to the environment, human health, and social justice.

To address these challenges, many stakeholders in the textile value chain are exploring ways to make the industry more sustainable and circular. Circular economy is a concept that aims to reduce waste and resource consumption by designing products that can be reused, repaired, recycled, or regenerated. By applying circular principles to the textile industry, it is possible to extend the lifespan of garments, reduce the need for virgin materials, and create new value from waste.

However, achieving circularity in the textile industry is not an easy task. It requires collaboration and coordination among various actors, such as raw material producers, manufacturers, retailers, consumers, recyclers, and policymakers. It also requires reliable and transparent information about the origin, composition, quality, and environmental impact of textile products. This is where source traceability comes in.

Source traceability is the ability to track and verify the history and characteristics of a product or a material along its supply chain. It can be achieved by using various methods and technologies, such as barcodes, QR codes, RFID tags, blockchain, or digital passports. Source traceability can provide several benefits for the circularity of the textile industry:

  • It can help consumers make informed choices about the sustainability and quality of the products they buy. For example, source traceability can enable consumers to access information about the raw materials, production processes, environmental footprint, social standards, and circular potential of a garment.
  • It can help manufacturers and retailers improve their production efficiency, quality control, inventory management, and customer satisfaction. For example, source traceability can help manufacturers and retailers identify and eliminate defects, optimize their logistics and distribution systems, reduce their operational costs and risks, and enhance their brand reputation and loyalty.
  • It can help recyclers and regulators ensure the safety and compliance of textile waste management. For example, source traceability can help recyclers and regulators identify the composition and purity of textile waste streams, separate different types of fibers and materials, prevent contamination and fraud, and monitor the environmental impact of recycling processes.
Several initiatives are already underway to promote source traceability in the textile industry. For instance:

  • The EURATEX Facts & Key Figures report provides data and analysis on the turnover, employment, trade performance, innovation potential, environmental impact, and circularity opportunities of the textile and clothing industry in the EU-27 region,
  • The Woolmark Company’s Sourcing Traceable Wool program provides a certification scheme for wool growers who meet high standards of animal welfare, land management, and fiber quality,
  • The UNECE initiative on Traceability for Sustainable Garment and Footwear aims to develop policy recommendations, traceability standards, implementation guidelines, and capacity building for enhancing transparency and traceability for sustainable value chains in the garment and footwear sector.
These examples show that source traceability is a key enabler for circularity in the textile industry.
By implementing source traceability systems across the supply chain, it is possible to create a more transparent, accountable, efficient, and sustainable textile sector that benefits all stakeholders.