Separated collection of textile waste in Italy: problems to face to improve recycling


The fashion and textile sector are one of the most important for the Italian economy, with around 50,000 active companies. At the end of their life cycle, textiles often end up in general waste and are incinerated or landfilled. A push to increase the collection of textile waste comes from the introduction, at national level, of the obligation to separate collection of textile waste of urban origin from the 1st of January 2022, earlier than in the EU (1st of January 2025). The reuse market has so far managed mainly thanks to social cooperatives, generating a very active second-hand market, but the recycling of textile waste is still lacking. It is now necessary to activate new supply chains to start a market for regenerated textile fibres, requested not only by the textile sector but also by the construction, automotive and furniture sectors. According to the recent study by the European Environment Agency, on the markets for secondary raw materials in Europe, the textile waste market does not meet the criteria for being well functioning. Textile waste is in fact exchanged as a secondary raw material almost exclusively for down-cycling activities. Only 1% of textile waste in the EU is recycled into new clothes. The main obstacles to recycling high-quality fabrics include the mix of fibres and materials (coatings, dyes, and non-textiles) contained in the products. Considerable amounts are exported to non-EU countries: the quantity of used textiles exported from the EU has tripled in the last twenty years, 46% was to Africa. Virgin materials, especially mixed and synthetic fibres, still enjoy particularly low prices, mainly from imports, and therefore represent strong competition for materials coming from recycling. The construction of the new EPR scheme will have to encourage the creation of efficient and competitive markets for the fractions of textile waste intended for recycling.

Separate collection of textile waste in Italy – some figure

The production of end-of-waste material from textile waste in Italy increased of the 86.2% between 2014 and 2020, with a yield of 89% of the collected waste. In 2020, the 73% of Italian municipalities activated the separated collection for the textile waste, but a 5.7% of unsorted municipal waste is still composed of textile waste. The total amount of textile waste collected was around 143,300 ton in 2020 and 154,000 ton in 2021. The collection will increase in the future due to the recovery of waste generated in the fashion and textile production sector, and from the consumption chain in general. Collection can be largely improved, and, in this end, the National Strategy for the Circular Economy provides for the introduction of the extended responsibility producer at a legislative level in the textile sector.

* Source: Il Riciclo in Italia, Rapporti 2022 e 2023. A cura di Edo Ronchi