When do people buy textiles?
New Scientist 3 November 2017 – Textiles, often used to make clothes, shoes, or other clothing, have been part of everyday life for centuries.
Now, a new study has revealed that the global supply of textiles may be reaching its end point, with textile waste reaching a peak in just a few years.
Researchers from the University of Nottingham, University of York, and the University College London used computer models to examine the patterns of textile consumption and waste in different countries, and found that textile waste is likely to end sometime between 2019 and 2020.
The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.
“The trends in textile waste are not uniform, but they are well documented, with trends across the globe,” said lead author Dr Mark Gompertz, an associate professor in the School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University at Albany.
“In a few short years, there is going to be a peak, and then there will be a trough.”
In particular, Gomertz noted that countries where textile waste has already reached a peak may have seen a large drop in textile production in the years ahead, and they may not see any growth in the near future.
The researchers also looked at what factors are responsible for the decline in textile output in the future.
“It is important to note that the production of textile goods is in decline worldwide, and it is possible that the trend in textile consumption will accelerate in the next few years,” Gomerton said.
“As we see a sharp decline in the supply of textile products, it is important for governments and policymakers to take a clear, holistic approach to address textile wastage and recycling in order to avoid the need for new technologies.”
The researchers compared the patterns for textile production and textile waste in countries around the world, looking at the change in textile exports from the period of 2000-2020.
The patterns they identified were not uniform across the world; the pattern was a mixture of different trends, with some countries experiencing a significant decrease in textile manufacturing, while others experienced a rapid increase.
The pattern that emerged was that the supply and demand patterns of global textile production were different.
“When textile production was at a peak and the demand was at its highest, the pattern for textile waste was quite consistent across the countries in our study,” Gomperton said, “but when textile production fell off and the supply is at its lowest, the patterns are different.”
“The textile industry is one of the oldest and most important industries in the world,” said Dr Jadwiga Zade, the lead author of the study.
“However, the demand for textiles has declined significantly over the last couple of decades.
The textile industry has a long history of recycling waste, but the amount of waste is increasing.
As a result, the textile industry will likely be facing a significant decline in future.”
Gomertzer explained that this is a big concern for the textile industries.
“Waste in textile mills is an increasingly important problem,” he said.
“The biggest textile mills in the developing world are in the poorest regions, where the supply chain is quite small and there is no recycling or waste management.
In developing countries, where textile mills are very well established, the waste that ends up in the mills is very significant and can contribute to the environmental degradation of local communities.”
Zade said the study provides further evidence of the need to address the issue of textile waste.
“There is no substitute for a sustainable and environmentally responsible textile industry,” she said.
A similar study published last year also showed that the rate of textile production is declining in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, but not in the United States, which is the world’s biggest consumer of textile waste.
The trend is also similar to the decline seen in China, where it was observed that textile production has declined in recent years.
“These findings are encouraging, because textile production can help to reverse the trends in global textile waste and the waste associated with textile production,” Gombotz said.
In the future, the researchers will continue to look at patterns of production and waste to identify areas of concern for textile manufacturers.