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Can textile recycling green the runway?

When less than 15 percent of the millions of tons of textiles used in the fashion industry are recycled, the need for circular fashion is clear.

That's why a slew of companies like Circ, Evrnu, Everywhere Apparel, Infinited Fiber Company, and more are trying to bring better recycling technology to bear on one of the industry's biggest sources of waste.

Take the Virginia-based company Circ. The company is on a mission to make fashion waste able to be recycled back into textiles over and over and over again. Their technology returns clothes made from cotton, polyester and cotton-poly blends back into their raw materials.

Earlier this month, the company announced that it had raised $30 million Series B from a clutch of investors led by the Bill Gates-founded Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

The round comes after COVID-19-induced setbacks and includes additional investment from Inditex, one of the world's largest fashion retailers and Zara’s parent company, American textile manufacturer Milliken, and international investment group Lansdowne Partners, reports GreenBiz.

According to Circ CEO Peter Majeranowski, the goal of the funding round is to help Circ complete several commercial and brand partnerships that are already underway. The company hopes that the funding will also help it increase its staff from 30 to about 50 people. Lastly the money will be put towards "beefing up" its engineering muscles, and building bigger and better facilities.

“If you look at some of the other chemical recyclers in space, we're following their lead in the sense of doing all the detailed engineering work for larger scale equipment," Majeranowski said. However, $30 million is a large sum of money, Majeranowski notes that it will take a lot more — billions and billions worth — for the industry to reach recycling at scale.

In order to work towards reaching that scale, Circ wants to partner with other companies in this space. One partnership is with Andritz, a Graz, Austria-headquartered technology group providing plants, systems, equipment and services for various industries. Their partnership with Circ started in 2021, when they were looking to partner with a company “that had testing facilities where we could try machines that would operate at a larger scale than what we were doing previously," Majeranowski said,

Circ isn’t the only company brainstorming ways to scale up textile recycling.

Another company with a similar goal is Renewcell, a Stockholm-based textile manufacturing company. Renewcell’s signature product, Circulose, a material made from recycled cotton clothing that replaces the wood pulp traditionally used in man-made clothing, has been piloted by brands including Levi’s, H&M and Ganni since the company started production in 2019.

As reported by Vogue Business, Renewcell is set to commercialize the material for mainstream fashion. This summer the company is opening what it calls “the largest chemical textile recycling factory in the world.

Accelerating Circularity is also thinking about ways to increase circular fashion. Accelerating Circularity is a nonprofit that creates new supply chains and business models to turn textile waste into mainstream raw materials. Recently, the organization started polyester waste recycling trials across Europe. They say the organization’s work will “completely align” with the European Commission’s 2030 Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles.

Last year, Evernu, another of the companies trying to make the fashion industry more circular, raised $15 million to build out its own technology solution.

"I think everybody's recognizing that circularity is coming, and it's here to stay. It's very much needed for the apparel industry," Majeranowski told GreenBiz. "So really, circularity is the golden bullet, that solution that the industry needs in order to be much more sustainable while still being able to democratize fashion for their customers."

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