TI07 - January 20

How will the recycling business evolve?

It is no longer an option: the global pressure on the industry, but also the consumers’ growing appetite for sustainability, have propelled recycling past the point of no return. The Portuguese industry, internationally acknowledged for the sustainability it carries in its DNA, has left the theoretical debate behind a long time ago: for our textiles and fashion, producing is the same as recycling

António Freitas de Sousa

More than a business, recycling is now an obligation that transcends the companies and economic organizations’ gates to feature at the top of the agenda of political agents all over the planet. Somehow, the Portuguese textile and clothing industry (TCI) – which works in an uneven playing field between raw materials and waste accumulation – knew how to, in due time, treat recycling as an identifying trait of its approach to the issue.

The response of the market was quickly felt: the products that assume environmental concerns, and therefore derive from recycling, circular economy and that use raw material which, until today, would inevitably pile up the mountains of rubbish that accumulate in the outskirts of every major city in the planet, have a safe and, apparently, secure market.

The contribution of the academy, mainly the research centres – such as CITEVE and CeNTI – was invaluable: in a happy wedding (as it always is) between industry and research, recycling has become one of the most obvious traits of our TCI’s DNA. Peer recognition is also guaranteed – which, amongst other evidences, is made clear by the multiple international awards that companies accrue in every trade fair of the field, where other competitors have to resign for second place.

Between the innovation from where it stemmed and the political emergency it created, recycling has already passed the point of no return, and is becoming increasingly the only economically viable option for the future, according to entrepreneurs and associations.

“There is, on behalf of the industry and also of the consumers, the perception that we have the duty to bet on recycling. I would say it’s an obligation for organizations”, says Mário Jorge Machado, the new president of Portugal’s Textile and Clothing Association (ATP), in order to highlight that “our businessmen are increasingly focused” on walking that path.

Notwithstanding the trace that links our TCI  with innovation and recycling, which is, in a way, pioneer in terms of industrialized countries – where recycling was given as an inevitability –, Mário Jorge Machado considers that “the topic has become political, gladly, because if it weren’t so” the market would have needed more time to perceive the matter’s urgency.

Maria José Carvalho
“Recycling will no longer be associated with the rubbish business, but instead with the luxury business”

Maria José Carvalho, director of CITEVE, follows the same line of thought: “In the future, the recycling business will no longer be associated with a ‘rubbish’ business. In other words, the valuing of residue in the strict sense of the term will become associated with a ‘luxury’ business, with the valuing of resources, in the wider scope of recycling, which in the case of the textile and clothing sector will include the transformation of textile resources into textiles, but also of non-textile resources into textiles”.

Recalling that “our TCI is internationally acknowledged for its excellence in terms of sustainability” – which is one of the lifelines of international business – Maria José Carvalho reminds us that “the sustainable or circular credentials” are the visible face of the responsibly sustainable production practices common to the Portuguese companies. And mentions the iTechStyle Green Circle – sustainable showcase as a symptomatic example of the industry’s posture.

Riopele is one of the groups that calls recycling on a first-name basis. José Alexandre Oliveira, CEO of the group, describes exactly that: “for us, all of that is already assimilated”, not only regarding the use of recycled materials, but also when it comes to a production that is more and more sustainable – from the use of solar power to a more efficient water use. José Alexandre Oliveira claims that, “by 2023, Riopele will be a 100% sustainable company” – and calls the attention to the fact that the group has been ‘burning’ a few stages: “we initially predicted that would only happen by 2025, but we have been able to leap through some stages quicker than we had expected”.

Sasia is another example of an industrial unit with an age-old position when it comes to sustainability. “Sustainability has been mentioned for years by the textile industry. Meanwhile, in the last few years, an appetite for recycled products has surfaced. We are, deep down, witnessing the development of a market that everybody wants to get in on”, refers Miguel Ribeiro da Silva, director.

Miguel Silva
“It’s important to rethink the product in its design stage, so it can be developed with recycling in mind”

“Recycling, upcycling and sustainable practices have a greater impact these days because the industry is committed to reducing its ecological footprint. However, it’s important to mention that there are still technical barriers hindering what companies are intending to do. It’s important to rethink the product in the design stage, so that it can be developed with recycling in mind”, he states – to highlight that the sustainable processes lack a vertical strategy that can reach all stages of production.

“We, Sasia, have been around for 67 years doing our part, taking care of textile residue, so they wouldn’t pile up the landfills, and collaborating with the sustainable practices of our partners. For this reason, besides the ISO9001 certification, we have recently implemented the GRS – Global Recycle Standard, highly requested for these projects”, he adds.

Another point that must be mentioned is that sustainability also goes through inter-corporate cooperation, not only to split the investment risks, but mainly to save resources. In this particular field, Tintex has stood out: Co.Lab is a sort of platform transversal to several companies (Becri, Confetil and Pedrosa&Rodrigues) meant to collect items that combine high-quality with design, and the guarantee that the best environmental practices available were employed in its production.

“Total transparency is one of the most pronounced traits of Co.Lab’s character. Each garment carries detailed information about the entire supply chain that produced it”, explains Ricardo Silva, Tintex Head of Operations.

Project 360 by Valérius is one of the clearest examples of how recycling, framed in a context of sustainability throughout the entire production cycle, is the way to go. “Sustainability is a macro-trend that has been gaining steam, and whose evolving potential in terms of quality and quantity is undeniable”, considers Dolores Gouveia, one of the project’s directors.

A final word of caution: from 2025 onward, Inditex will only accept sustainable companies as their suppliers!