Secondary Materials in the Austrian Textile Industry - Study with Recommendations for the Austrian R&D-Politics
Completed (December 2022)
The global production volumes of the textile industry have been increasing rapidly for over two decades, and so have the quantities of textile waste. In Austria, about 77% of textile waste is recycled for energy. Since 2025, the European Commission has required that textiles must be collected separately. Also due to the change in the framework conditions, the quantities of separately collected textiles in the EU will increase by around 60 000 - 90 000 t/a.
The textile industry is one of the oldest industries in the world and still represents an important economic factor today. In the EU, 1.5 million people worked in the textile sector in 160,000 companies in 2019, which generated a turnover of 162 billion euros (cf. Euratex 2020, p. 6).
Despite a downward trend, the textile and clothing industry continues to generate relevant value and creates thousands of jobs in Austria. Austrian companies are represented along the entire value chain and are focused on the production of niche and special products.
However, the predominantly linear textile production is also associated with considerable resource consumption and negative environmental impacts (use of chemicals, water and air pollution, microplastic pollution). With the growing number of produced textiles, the number of used textiles is also increasing.
Due to the ever-increasing quantities of used textiles and the decreasing qualities, the collection of used textiles, which has been established for years, is also reaching its limits. A large proportion of the used textiles collected in the EU are exported to Eastern European countries for sorting and then resold to Africa or Asia for reuse or recycling. The foreign markets in Africa and Asia for these second-hand textiles are also increasingly oversaturated.
In 2015, the European Commission published the "Circular Economy Package" and initiated important changes to the EU Waste Framework Directive, which also affects the handling of textiles. This means that the EU textile sector will be facing important changes within the next few years. From 2025, the modified Waste Framework Directive calls for mandatory separate textile collection for all Member States.
Considering the expected increasing quantities of textile waste in separate collection as well as the saturation of the sales markets for used clothing, strategies must be developed on how to deal with the increasing quantities of textiles collected in the future.
Object of investigation, objectives and method of the study
This study deals with the challenges and potentials for the use of secondary materials in the Austrian textile industry. The aim of the study was to identify challenges and potentials for establishing cycles in the textile industry with a focus on the use of secondary materials in Austria based on broad stakeholder involvement. Based on this, recommendations for research and development activities were formulated to promote recycling.
To achieve the objective of the study, the following questions were addressed:
- What are the current recycling routes and quantities of textile waste in Austria?
- Where in Europe are good practices for circular economy in the textile industry with a special focus on recycling technologies?
- What are the challenges and potentials for high-quality recycling and the use of textile secondary fibres in Austria?
This study provides an insight into the textile value chain in Austria, presents its importance based on key economic figures and identifies important players. Based on this data, a comprehensive literature research, a good practice analysis, interviews with experts and an online survey among companies in the Austrian textile industry, the most important challenges and potentials for the use of secondary textile fibres were elaborated.
Challenges and potentials for the use of secondary raw materials
The environmental impacts caused by the clothing and textile industry are high. These negative impacts occur along the entire value chain, in which the types of fibres used, and the useful life of the textiles are key drivers. High-quality recycling and the use of textile secondary fibres in the textile industry can reduce the environmental impacts caused by the extraction of raw materials and the subsequent fibre production.
However, the challenges for high-quality recycling are diverse and located along the entire value chain. Major challenges that need to be solved to force textile cycles include a design of textiles that is often not suitable for recycling, insufficient labelling of the fibres or chemicals used, the necessary improvement of current collection and sorting systems, the development of recycling technologies or the scale-up of already developed technologies, especially for mixed fibres.
The study by "Umweltbundesamt" (Bernhardt, 2022) shows that there is a potential to make greater use of the textile waste stream in Austria. Potential for the use of secondary raw materials is also seen in particular in the areas of man-made fiber and yarn production in Austria. Recycling textile waste can make a significant contribution to conserving raw material sources, to reduce the environmental impact and to achieve the goals of a sustainable circular economy by keeping textile raw materials in the cycle for as long as possible.
It is still under discussion how the collection, sorting and subsequent recycling of textile waste could be implemented in Austria in the future. This study aims to identify important research fields in these areas.