Economic Development and Environmental Sustainability
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2015 8th Issue: Proposals on Measures for Better Recovery and Reutilization of Textile Clothing Resources

Li Junyang (Secretary General of IEEPA)

Proposals Outline

1. Necessity of recovery and reutilization of textile clothing waste

2. Current conditions on recovery and reutilization of textile clothing waste

3. Problems and suggestions for textile clothing waste recovery and reutilization

4. National financial and taxation policy support needed for circular development in the textile clothing field

Textile industry has close connection with people¡¯s daily life. It is now facing two major problems worldwide. On the one hand, with world economic development and technological advancement, application field of textile has been constantly expanding. Yet its using period is shortening. Plus, with rapidly growing world population, there have been an obvious shortage in total consumption of textile and a substantial increase in price. On the other hand, large amount of waste and old textile has been land filled and burnt. This not only wastes resources, but also pollutes the environment. Therefore, recycling of waste textile is a must as it could help conserve resources and alleviate pollution caused by textile industry to the environment.

Developed countries such as EU, US and Japan, with high-level development of circular economy and advanced textile industry, have started earlier conducting research and development in waste textile recycling and actively supported and encouraged regeneration of solid waste including waste and old textile by introducing relevant legislations and establishing specialized institutions. Though after several years of research and practice, they have put in place a recycling system and reuse model initially, recycling rate there remains low with less than 20% in most countries. At present, generating amount of waste and old textile clothes has reached 40 million tons in the whole world, opening up a good prospect for recovery and recycling of waste and old textile and clothing.

China is the largest producer of textile fibers and a major consumer and exporter of textile clothing in the world. With fast development of industrialization and urbanization, clothing expenditure among Chinese urban residents is growing. All kinds of remnants generated from production links and old clothes and textile in urban households are also increasing. In 2011, the total amount of waste and old textiles in China exceeded 26 million tons; with only 2.3 million tons comprehensively utilized, taking up less than 10%. With increasing external dependence on textile materials and price hikes in world oil and cotton, it is thus of urgent necessity for China to realize circular development of textile clothing industry. Recycling and reutilization of waste and old textile can not only help save resources, alleviate resources restrictions, but also reduce pollution to the environment and carbon emissions in processing procedures, realize green and sustainable development of textile industry and effectively cope with international trade barriers.

It is the first time that circular utilization of waste and old textiles has been added to the Twelfth-Five Year Plan on Textile Industry. According to it, China will initially establish an administrative and supervisory system, organize and set up its economic development plan and technological road map of textiles recycling in the next 5 years. The total amount of nationwide fiber processing is expected to reach 51.5 million tons, among which the figure for recycling textile fiber will increase from 2.3 million tons to 8 million tons with an annual growth rate of 14.9%. As the most populous country and a leading textile producer in the world, China¡¯s policy formulation of ¡°waste and old textiles recycling¡± is of great significance to itself and the world as a whole.

In textile clothing recycling, China has made some active exploration and accumulated practical experience. Nevertheless, compared with many developed countries especially in Europe and America, recycling approaches taken by Chinese clothing industry remains dispersed and nonsystematic, and problems like disordered recycling, backward management, shortage of standards and low-level processing skills are in need of settlement. Therefore, it is necessary to strengthen law enforcement, standard formulation and policy support so as to establish an unblocked recovery channel and encourage technological innovation.

With exhausted natural resources and deteriorating ecological environment, consumers are paying more and more attention to natural resources consumption of products, treatability of products and ecological environment. As a result, production of natural fiber and chemical fiber, as major materials for textile clothing, will be increasingly restricted, while renewable, reusable and less polluted eco-friendly fiber will draw more and more attention. Production of textile clothing requires not only recycling in the later period, but also development of fiber technology, ecological balance and green production. At the same time, in order to break green trade barriers and advocate people¡¯s low-carbon consumption, identification of the ecological environmental protection and low carbon have become the trend of sustainable development of textile industry in China.

1 Necessity of Recover and Recycle of Textile Clothing

1.1  Recycle and Recovery Helping Reduce Resources Waste and Ease Shortage

Resources in textile clothing all come from nature. Cotton, as a main source of cotton textile, is the most ecologically friendly natural resource with the least consumption; resources like fur and plants, though renewable, could bring huge natural costs; oil, as a main source of chemical fiber products taking a growing proportion of textile products, is an important non-renewable fossil fuel. Clothing, as an industrial product, seemingly consumes less energy than that of other products like automobiles and papers. In fact, it involves a complicated industrial chain with huge energy consumption. For instance, making a chemical fiber garment would consume a lot of oil. Even in every link of the whole process of making an ordinary piece of pure cotton clothes including cotton planting, fertilization, harvesting, spinning and weaving as well as dyeing, it also involves huge resources consumption. Graph 3-1 gives a general picture of energy consumption level in China¡¯s textile industry. It shows that in 2010, China¡¯s standard coal consumption totaled 3.25b tons, in which textile industry accounted for 2%, with 2 ¡ë for clothing, shoes and hats making fields.


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