With a growing need to find more sustainable alternatives for the fashion industry, brands and manufacturers have been looking into recycled fabrics as the next big thing. However, are they really the best alternative?
As companies implement increasingly strict standards about the chemicals in their products, comprehensive studies on recycled fabrics have been conducted aiming to figure out their chemical content and how to remove it before reuse.
Fabric from discarded jeans or shirts could potentially be filled with formaldehyde, cancerous dyes, phthalates, or heavy metals.
These are harmful not only for the person who wore the clothes but also for the people who made it; also, it poses a challenge for companies planning to recycle textiles into new products and who obviously don't want them to include an unknown assortment of chemicals.
In a study conducted for IKEA and H&M, the two companies collected 166 cotton-based textiles, most from donated clothes and some from production waste. They shredded the samples and spent months running them through chemical analysis in 8.000 tests. The results found chromium compounds (a carcinogen), heavy metals used in dyeing in 8.7% of the samples, and alkylphenol ethoxylates (an endocrine disrupter), used in dyes and pigments, in 19.3% of samples.
While it's still soon to make any conclusions, this study is a first approach to increase our knowledge about the molecular composition of garments, while setting the foundation for a better circular economy, by empowering the supply chain with more information about its materials.
Technological advancements must be backed by responsible commitment and preparation!