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Circular Textiles: An Urgent Call for Shift

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The fashion industry is one of the key consumers of natural resources such as water and energy. This widespread consumption due to fast fashion has devastating impacts on people and the planet. It is now more urgent than ever to shift from a linear – take, make, use, dispose – model to a circular model or circular economy where waste and pollution are designed out, products and materials are kept in use longer, and natural systems can regenerate. Mukul Agrawal, Chief Sustainability Officer, Birla Cellulose, shares his view on circular textiles and how brand Liva Reviva incorporates them in their products.

Tell us about circular textiles and their importance for the planet and the industry?

An estimated 110 million tons of material is used in the fashion industry annually and more than 90 million tons of fashion waste goes to landfill and incineration every year. As an estimate, only 1% of the material is recycled today. This widespread consumption due to fast fashion has devastating impacts on people and the planet, including its biodiversity. It is now more urgent than ever to shift from linear – take, make, use, dispose – model to a circular model or circular economy where waste and pollution are designed out, products and materials are kept in use for longer, and natural systems can regenerate.

Polyester dominates the industry with 65% share in the material basket and polyester garments cannot be recycled due to technological limitations. Also, it is not biodegradable at the end of life, creating significant issues of land and water pollution when leaked to environment. Cotton is about 25% an agricultural fibre. Man-made cellulosic fibres (MMCF) (viscose, lyocell, modal) constitute of 8% of total fibre basket.

The current innovations are now making it possible for cotton waste to be recycled into viscose and lyocell processes. The
products like Liva Reviva use industrial cotton waste as feedstock. The mechanical recycling of fabrics has also started; however, it has limitations in quality of fabric and fibre that can be produced using this process. The recycling industry is at a nascent stage and has huge opportunity to rapidly grow if brands start consuming circular materials in larger quantities.

Transitioning to a circular economy is a win-win proposition – reducing pressure on natural resources while reducing waste
going to landfill and incineration.

How does Liva Reviva incorporate circular textiles in its products? Please elaborate on the entire process, right from product design.

Responsibly produced MMCFs have emerged as one of the most sustainable fibre choices due to their sustainability credentials. MMCFs are made from natural and renewable wood sourced from sustainably managed forests and are made using the closed-loop process, which has a much lower environmental impact and compared to other fibres, MMCFs are biodegradable in soil, water and marine environment and are easily compostable at the end of life.

With the advancement of technology, the waste cotton from pre- and post-consumer waste can now be recycled back into the viscose fibre which can replace use of virgin wood-based pulp, thus providing a great potential of making a huge shift from a linear business model to a circular business model.

Birla Cellulose has developed an innovative in-house proprietary technology for recycling pre-consumer cotton waste to fresh viscose fibres, akin to regular fibres and launched commercially as “Liva Reviva” with 20% to 30% feedstock as pre- consumer waste in 2020. The recycled fibre Liva Reviva is RCS (Recycled Claim Standard) certified.

We strongly believe that the development of Next Generation solutions and a Circular Business Model will require like- minded organisations to work together and facilitate & support each other in this journey.

The Liva Reviva production also involves development of reverse logistics for waste collection and we have worked with our
value chain partners and some leading brands to establish the waste supply networks that collect the industrial cotton waste, cleaning and segregating the waste and transporting it to our facilities for recycling. It is important that the reverse logistics of waste collection is established as currently this waste is going to incineration or downcycling.

Birla Cellulose is aggressively working on scaling the next generation fibres to a level of 100,000 tons by 2024 and increasing the recycled content and increased use of post-consumer waste and is committed to accelerate innovations that are aligned with UN SDGs 2030.

Can you quantify the positive impact that Liva Reviva can create on the environment through this process?

Circular fibres such as Liva Reviva have several environmental benefits such as reduced waste, lower water & chemical use,
and energy consumption while saving forests, preventing carbon emissions, and protecting the planet. Currently, 90 million tons of waste is going to landfill and only 1-2 % is being recycled. So there is an enormous potential to scale up recycling in the textile industry.

When we scale the recycling of waste, it reduces the pressure on fresh raw material, wood-based pulp, which is already a stressed commodity. Sustainably managed forests are limited and sustainably sourced wood has limited availability. The higher recycling of cotton would have a positive impact on this in longer term as we scale up Liva Reviva.

Liva Reviva has several ecological benefits in addition to circularity; it has lower water consumption and lower GHG emissions as compared to generic viscose based on Higg MSI tool provided by SAC. In addition to that, it consumes very low water compared to other fibres like cotton and conventional viscose.

Sustainably produced MMCFs from sustainably-sourced wood are one of the most versatile fibres and best placed due to their sustainability credentials such as being made using closed-loop technologies with low environmental impact and very low emissions; applying principles of Circular Economy thereby minimising the use of natural resources.

Brands and consumers looking for more sustainable fibre and fibres like Liva Reviva are apt solution. These sustainable fibres are versatile and are now preferred over other fibres. Moreover, fossil based fibres are generating microfibres which are leading to microfibre pollution and harming the marine biodiversity as these fibres takes centuries to degrade. MMCF are biodegradable in a very short span of time (in a few weeks) and also do not have any harmful impact on soil, marine and water environment.

Please elaborate on Liva Reviva garments that incorporate circular textiles.

The brands have started to use the Liva Reviva fibres in their collections and many brands are working on new collections
and designs. These are focused on several segments such as ladies’ wear, kids’ wear, youth and others. Some of the renowned international and domestic brands use Liva Reviva for their collection.

How do you market the importance of fashion made using circular textiles to customers?

Today, the world is looking for solutions to the fashion industry’s problems of environmental pollution, and sustainably produced MMCF provides a great solution and choice for a more sustainable fashion. In the western part of the world, a part of the demand of sustainable fibre is already being driven by consumers who are looking for more sustainable material choices and also the recycling industry is growing faster including re-commerce, take-back programmes, reuse of garments and recycling of garments.

Our role is to create awareness among the consumers on negative aspects of fast fashion and to increase their knowledge
on environmental impacts created by the increasing consumption of garments. The amount of microplastics in the ocean today is also causing great degree of concern in the consumers and they are switching to natural and bio-degradable materials like cellulosic fibres from synthetic fibres like polyester, etc. We also work closely with brand partners to build communication programmes where the benefits of recycled fibre-based garments can be communicated to end consumers in an easy, accurate and meaningful way.