“The collection and reuse of post-consumer clothing are key elements in the EU’s circular economy strategy”

These are the words of Virginijus Sinkevičius, the European Commissioner for the Environment, who this morning visited the Humana plant for the preparation of textiles for reuse. Accompanied by Spanish Secretary of State for the Environment, the Commissioner witnessed the textile waste management process first-hand. The Humana plant is the largest in Spain dedicated to the management of textile waste and FuturENVIRO had the opportunity to see the facility in action today, as a special guest on this official visit.

“The reuse of textiles is key to the circular economy and the creation of green jobs,” said Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries on visiting the textile preparation for reuse plant of the Humana Fundación Pueblo para Pueblo (Humana People for People Foundation). The Lithuanian official praised the work of the non-profit organisation and added that “the collection and reuse of post-consumer clothing are key elements in the EU’s circular economy strategy.

Sinkevičius was in Leganés (Madrid) to visit Spain’s largest textile waste management complex. He was accompanied by Spanish Secretary of State for the Environment, Hugo Morán. The delegation, made up of five representatives from the European Commission and two from the Ministry for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge (MITECO), was received by the general coordinator of Humana, Jesper Wohlert, who highlighted the environmental benefits of reuse and the contribution of used clothing management to the circular economy.

The Leganés plant went into operation in 2010 and was expanded in 2018. It consists of two facilities with a surface area of over 10,000 m2. 40 tonnes of textile waste are processed daily (1.2 tonnes per member of the sorting staff) at the plant, which is operated by a team of 80 people.

After the visit, Humana’s General Coordinator Jesper Wohlert pointed out that “Humana’s work in the reused textile sector is essential in the transition to a circular textile industry. Given this fact, we are fully committed to EU strategies”.

“We advocate the EU waste hierarchy, which prioritises waste prevention and reuse over recycling. Reuse has enormous benefits, not only in environmental terms but also in terms of creating green jobs. 60% of the clothes bought in Humana’s second-hand shops replace the purchase of new clothes, which contributes to the prevention of CO2 emissions and subsequent textile waste”, he added.

Preparation for reuse, recycling of textile fibres and energy recovery from textiles that cannot be reused are the main processes that enable a circular economy model to be applied to used textile management. Humana concentrates its efforts on reuse in order to convert waste that cannot be prevented into resources. The foundation began operating in 1987 and its work has placed textile waste management at the forefront of the circular economy.

The European Commissioner, a former Lithuanian Minister of Economy and Innovation, arrived in Spain yesterday. In addition to visiting the Humana plant, he has also participated in the EU “Aire Puro” Forum and tomorrow he will visit La Palma to witness the effects of the Cumbre Vieja volcano.

European Union Circular Economy Strategy

The recovery and reuse of post-consumer clothes are key elements in the EU’s circular economy strategy, which is led by the Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries. Brussels is promoting a Circular Economy Action Plan, which is one of the main elements of the European Green Deal, Europe’s new agenda for sustainable growth. This plan is committed to a transformation of the production and consumption model in order to achieve a longer service life for products, amongst other objectives.

The Circular Economy Action Plan seeks to “drive new business models that will stimulate sorting, reuse and recycling of textile products, and enable consumers to choose sustainable textile products. Eco-design will be extended to a wider range of products and clothes will be made to last longer”.

What quantity of clothes is recovered in Spain?

Humana recovered 8,456 tonnes of used textiles in Spain during the first half of 2021, giving them a second life through reuse or recycling. This figure was up 23.4% on the figure for the first six months of 2020 (6,851 tonnes) and is the equivalent of 38 million garments. Moreover, the recovery of textile waste from January to June has prevented the emission of 26,798 tonnes of CO2.

Every citizen disposes of between 20 and 30 kg of textiles per annum. According to the most recent reports, 110,000 tonnes of textile waste is collected annually in Spain, accounting for just over 10% of the quantity of waste generated in households. Only one tenth is selectively recovered to enable reuse or recycling. The remainder is disposed of with other fractions and ends up in landfills.

Separate collection of clothing has great potential to ensure a second life for textiles. 50% of used clothing can be reused and more than 35% can be recycled, making it important to dispose of it in a dedicated clothing bin. This may seem obvious, but almost 90% of textile waste is not disposed of in a way that enables selective collection.