The 62nd Dornbirn Global Manmade Fibers (GFC) conference, held in Dornbirn, Austria from September 13-15, showcased a surge in innovative recycling solutions for post-consumer textile waste, driven by the European Union’s Textile Strategy within the broader Green Deal. Starting in 2025, the EU will separately collect over seven million tons of waste textiles annually, funded by the brands introducing them to the market via an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme. These textiles will no longer be landfill- or incineration-eligible, leading to an estimated 30+ million-ton waste pile by 2030 unless urgent measures are taken.
Lenzing CEO Stephan Sielaff noted that synthetic fibers, mainly polyester, are expected to grow at a rate of 2.7% annually until 2030, while cellulosics (excluding cotton) will grow at 5.6%. Despite this growth, synthetics still account for 92% of all manmade fibers, with cellulosics comprising just 8% based on 2022 production figures.
To address this challenge, Lenzing has invested significantly in expanding its global capacity for cellulosic fibers while also making its production sites more environmentally friendly, with a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.
The growth in cellulosics includes new fibers derived from ‘NextGen’ feedstocks, often based on post-consumer waste and pioneered in Scandinavia. Leading this movement is Renewcell, which opened an industrial Circulose dissolving pulp plant in Sweden in 2022. In June, Renewcell launched the Circulose Supplier Network (CSN) to supply Circulose fiber to the market. Infinited Fiber Company is also building a factory in Finland to produce Infinna, a regenerated textile fiber, while Sodra in Sweden is preparing for the OnceMore project, recycling textile waste to recover cotton and polyester.
Dirk Vantyghem of Euratex, a Brussels-based industry body, emphasized that the EU’s Textile Strategy introduces 16 separate pieces of legislation, transforming the textile trade landscape within the European Union. He noted that the market would shift from free trade to “free-but-fair trade,” calling for a level playing field and a realistic, enforceable regulatory framework.
China, the world’s largest fiber producer and consumer of textiles, has already announced plans to recycle a significant portion of waste from textile mills. Giuseppe Gherzi of Gherzi Engineering predicted that global fiber recycling would increase from around two million tons to ten million tons by 2030, causing potential confusion in distinguishing between recycled PET polyester and PET bottles.
To address these challenges, Euratex launched ReHubs Europe, a non-profit association focused on promoting textile recycling. This initiative aims to achieve 2.5 million tons of fiber-to-fiber textile recycling per year by 2030 and establish 150-250 dedicated sorting and recycling centers.
The comprehensive Dornbirn 2023 conference featured over 120 presentations and introduced innovations from 25 start-ups during the 3rd Innovation Days side event, solidifying its status as a leading forum in this rapidly evolving industry.