Spokesperson: Priyanka Khanna, Head of Asia Expansion

  1. What are the factors that make India a global leader in the Textile and Apparel market?

India is one of the largest textile and apparel sourcing regions in the world due to abundant availability of raw materials and skilled workforce.

From 2019-2020, the Indian Textile and Apparel industry was valued at USD 108.5 billion, forming 2% of total GDP, 12% of total exports, and 7% of industry output in value terms.[1][2] The industry grew at a compound growth rate of 13.8% between 2010-2018, employing over 45 million individuals and nearly ~90 million in allied industries.[3]

The country is one of the largest producers of cotton, jute and silk and accounts for 25% of the global cotton production.[4] With respect to production capacities, the Indian textile and apparel industry is able to conduct all activities ranging from spinning to apparel production. India also has the second-largest spinning capacity with 50 million spindles.[5] Furthermore, the skilled workforce in the country has the capacity to work with diverse materials, both knit and woven fabrics apparel categories[6] making India an important sourcing destination for global brands [7].

Besides being a production hub, India is also a growing consumer of  textile and apparel products with domestic consumption valued at USD 75 billion.[8] This consumption is expected to increase as the economic growth brings 118 million additional households into the upper and upper-middle class between 2015 to 2025 in India.[9]  This consumption growth is also visible in the total expenditure of Indians on clothes, which increased from USD 24.65 billion (INR 1,924 billion) in 2010 to USD 69.3 billion (INR 5,408 billion) in 2018.[10] An increase in disposable incomes and changes in consumption pattern among Indians has led to a boom in the retail sector in the country.

Indian production and consumption growth patterns are also aligned with the global trends, with garment production doubling between 2000-2014 and per capita garment purchases increasing by 60%.[11]

  1. How does the ‘ Wealth in Waste’ campaign support circularity

Wealth in Waste is not a campaign. Rather, it is a first of its kind study initiated by Fashion for Good as part of the Sorting for Circularity India Project.

Sorting for Circularity is a framework conceived by Fashion for Good, with the aim to (re)capture textile waste and drive circularity within the fashion value chain. The consortium projects have been developed with scalability in mind, encompassing many geographies across the globe, starting with projects in Europe and India, where textile waste presents opportunities for new streams of revenue and new materials, reducing dependency on virgin materials and diverting waste from landfill and incineration.

The Sorting for Circularity; India project aims to organise the Indian textile waste market in a three phase approach so as to streamline, strengthen and foster the Indian waste market to drive the transition to a more circular economy that recaptures value to its maximum potential. The three phases of this approach aim to a) address the data gaps in textile waste supply chain; (The Wealth in Waste study falls into this part of the project) b) identify and pilot technologies which can organise the industry; c) build a roadmap to scale such technologies. This approach was designed to facilitate access to post-and pre-consumer feedstock that meets the quality requirements of advanced recycling technologies, giving these technologies an incentive to scale in India.

To enable an effective transition towards circularity, India needs to take into consideration the on-ground challenges backed by data. The Wealth in Waste y study is a first-of-its-kind attempt to fill the data gaps that exist in the textile waste landscape in India and help the ecosystem players to orchestrate actions and devise solutions and interventions accordingly. It presents information on the extent of textile waste being generated in India and the complexity of the textile waste value chain processing it, by presenting evidence from both primary and secondary research.

  1. How does this project aim at reducing the environmental impact?

Through the pilots, the Sorting for Circularity India project will make a case that textile waste can be brought back into the supply chain as new material, reducing the use of virgin materials while also generating economic, social and environmental benefits. Once this is scaled and waste is valorised to its full potential, reducing virgin material use should radically decrease the environmental impact.

  1. What are the expected results and by when can we see the results?

As mentioned above, the Sortring for Circularity India project is set up with three phases in mind, each delivering on specific goals:

  • Result 1: Understanding the textile waste landscape on India – Launched through the report in July 2022
  • Result 2: Pre-consumer waste pilot – wherein pre-consumer waste from 18 factories of 6 brands is segregated at source and is routed to various recyclers and back to the manufacturers while maintaining the trace that is visibility of the waste. – The learnings to be shared with the industry at large in october
  • Result 3: Post-consumer waste pilot – where post-consumer waste from various sources is collected and sorted using semi-automated sorting technologies and routed to recyclers and finally to manufacturers while maintaining tracem that is visibility of waste. – The learnings to be shared with the industry in Feb 2023
  1. How is this Campaign going to affect the quality of the products? ( As the new products will be made from the recycled/ processed materials etc)

At this moment, The waste that is being recycled is not being valorised to its full potential and a lot of waste generated isn’t being recycled at all. Through the project pilots, we create traceability of waste and establish sorting and segregation systems, which will enable different recycling technologies to use this waste and or recycle this waste to high quality recycled material which can be brought back into the global supply chain instead of the current lower quality output that needs to go into alternate uses. By testing newer semi-automated sorting and new recycling technologies we will establish a business case and increase the waste valorisation.

  1. What are the key takeaways of this campaign?

This report is a first-of-its-kind attempt to fill the data gaps that exist in the textile waste landscape in India and help the ecosystem players to orchestrate actions and devise interventions accordingly. Many more insights can be explored in the report, but here are a few to take note of.

  1. ~7793 ktons of textile waste is generated and imported in India annually. 59% of this waste finds its way back into the textile industry but only a fraction of it moves back into the global supply chain
  2. ~61% of textile waste consists of cotton and cotton blends, however, there’s a growing trend of polyester and other synthetic blends, which currently forms 19% of total waste.
  3. Most of the textile waste that is generated domestically and imported to india converges at panipat and tirupur, the major recycling hubs
  4. India has a well integrated, albeit unorganised value chain to deal with textile waste, however, the lack of standard practices has limited the potential of a circular value chain
  5. A seven level waste value hierarchy was adapted from the EU environmental agency’s framework to understand perceived value of various waste types
  6. Less than 50% of the textile waste in India currently has high value realisation. These materials include fabric deadstock, re-wearable clothing, apparel overproduction and white-knitted 100% cotton waste
  7. Certain spinning waste types and materials like printed synthetics have very little value being retrieved however they hold a high potential
  8. Heavily contaminated and ragged materials that reach the end of their life are difficult to retrieve and they end up being incinerated/ landfilled
  1. What are the different waste streams associated with the textile industry?

8.5% of global textile waste, or 7793 ktons, is accumulated in India annually. The following graphic illustrates the total quantity of textile waste in India in three main waste categories: domestic post-consumer (51%), pre-consumer (42%), and imported post-consumer (7%).

Pre-Consumer waste accounts for 3265 ktons annually, spinning waste forms the largest share,followed by Mill Waste and Ready-Made Garments (RMG) waste..

Domestic post-consumer textile waste refers to the textile waste generated at the end of an apparel or textile’s use by consumers. It could be discarded for a number of reasons such as a change in fashion trends, being worn out, damaged, or outgrown. Domestic post-consumer waste consists of wearable and non-wearable components and is the largest contributor to the total waste generated in the country with 3943.3 ktons discarded annually. Domestic post-consumer textile waste refers to the textile waste generated at the end of an apparel or textile’s use by consumers. Local municipal bodies collect a majority of this waste through door to door collections, with support from the Waghri Community, who collect roughly 30%, or 1190 ktons of waste annually.

Imported textile waste forms 7% of total textile waste and falls within two categories- Mutilated Rags (HS Code: 6310) and Second-Hand Clothing (HS Code: 6309). Used clothing with signs of mutilation and wear and tear also fall under code 6310 and hence demarcation between the two categories is often very difficult. According to import policies, the used clothing category is a restricted trade in India and its import is only allowed in the Kandla Special Economic Zone (KASEZ). The KASEZ has 16 units which were set up to sort and grade imported used clothing and re-export them to other countries.[12] The import of mutilated rags, on the other hand, is a free trade allowed at all ports of India.

  1. What are the traditional/cultural ways of recycling waste in the textile sector?

India’s decades-old culture and history of reusing, remaking and redesigning garments has enabled informal trade routes for textile waste and infrastructure to process it.

Indigenous communities in different parts of the country, especially in Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat, and Rajasthan have been involved in traditional and cultural practices to preserve and reuse old textile for decades.[13] With the emergence of recycling processes and synthetic fibres, these conventional and cultural practices were replaced by machine-based recycling. Since the 1980s, Panipat, a town in the Haryana state, flourished to become the largest textile recycling hub in India.[14] Consequently, newer and more efficient recycling hubs like Tirupur have also emerged with significant potential. These hubs work with different types of wastes from various sources to meet domestic and international demand for recycled products, while continuously finding various reuse and downcycling use cases.[15]

While India possesses a huge mechanical recycling infrastructure and potential, the country has not been able to establish complete circularity of textile wastes[16]. This is largely due to the lack of visibility and understanding of the underlying potential of this industry. To date, the value chain managing it remains largely unorganised, leading to leakage of waste at multiple levels. The industry functions with minimal support for technological advancement and process standardisation.[17] Consequently, the yarn produced is lower in quality and is deemed unfit for global apparel manufacturing. This, coupled with the stiff competition from inexpensive synthetic fibres, is limiting the economic growth and viability of the recycling industry in India.

  1. How are we coping with the growing waste produced in the industry? What are the new technological advancements in the recycling/ reuse sector?

Globally over the last decade a lot of newer innovations have popped up to address the carbon emissions in the industry. Over 24% of all scope 3 emissions in the textile industry are attributed to raw material extraction. The newer innovations are looking to reduce waste and keep materials in circulation for as long as possible to reduce waste and the material carbon emissions.

There are many reuse, and resale models that are trying to keep existing garments and excess fabric stock in circulation.

Along with this, Chemical recycling technologies are primarily the most promising technological advancement that has the potential to recycle wastes that cannot be recycled mechanically at the moment. Chemical Recycling Technologies at the cusp of implementation, they are able to recycle cotton or polyester or separate blends are in the nascent stage of development. As they develop large scale capacity, they will require large volumes and very high quality textile waste as feedstock. According to a recent report by Mckinsey, fibre-to-fibre recycling in Europe alone can increase to 26 million tons by 2030[18]. This exponential growth in the global recycling industry would put pressure on the various production markets for textile waste feedstock as well as markets with high post-consumer waste. Mechanical recycling, on the other hand, has also seen an uptake in demand due to technology upgradation, increasing the need for traceable high quality feedstock. India already has large volumes of cotton, cotton rich (~4700 ktons) and polyester waste (~1400 ktons) that can be fed into the recycling technologies.

  1. How is the circular model different from the ‘Take-make-Dispose’ model?

Unlike linear business models of take-make-dispose, the circular model is restorative and regenerative by design, using the output/waste and bringing it back into the supply chain as new feedstock, utilising the materials to their full potential and keeping them in circulation as long as possible. This reduces the need for new materials and thus reduces the environmental footprint for producing new products.

Circular model requires a few changes across the supply chain, from designing for circularity –  that is designing for bringing the waste back, to creating transparency along processing and production – to understand the material composition of products, so that recycling of materials is more effective and of high quality.

  1. What are the different types of textile waste in India and how can we quantify it?


  1. What are the different techniques/concepts used in the treatment of waste (for example reuse, upcycling, etc) explain these terms with examples so that we can get a clear idea

Using the EU waste hierarchy framework, this study has developed a first-of-its-kind textile waste value hierarchy for India that provides a consolidated view of how the ecosystem currently perceives the value of the different waste types

The hierarchy presents the current value of waste and identifies waste types to further valorise.. However, the value of waste is dependent on its type, purity of feedstock, technologies that can revalorise it and demand for its recycled form. This hierarchy, though not exhaustive, acts as a toolkit for the ecosystem to understand waste types that require interventions to realise their full value potential.

[1]Progressing towards waste prevention in Europe – the case of textile waste prevention. European Environment Agency. (2021, December 15). Retrieved June 15, 2022, from https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/progressing-towards-waste-prevention-in

Developing the textile waste hierarchy framework: One waste type can have multiple use cases and therefore the developed framework takes into account various parameters such as contamination, fabric construction, colours and prints, to define the accurate position of the waste type. Despite this, not all use cases of a waste type have been captured in this simplified version and our understanding of the ecosystem suggests that every material in the hierarchy can be used for a lower level application depending on market demand and conditions. Additionally, the cost of waste has not been used as a parameter to determine the value of waste since it was found to be varying in different locations and levels of the value chain. Moreover, the cost of textile waste was found to be significantly dependent on the prices of virgin material and hence, subject to high market volatility.

While textile and non-textile industries in India have been able to find use cases for most waste types, over 50% of total waste is not being realised to the highest value. In addition, the industry also values the same fabric composition from different waste streams differently. For example, a 100% white cotton fabric from a pre-consumer waste stream is considered more valuable than the same material from imported and domestic post-consumer waste streams. This difference emerges due to the different levels of contaminations across waste streams, pre-processing requirements and availability. The hierarchy is split between material types within each waste stream with high and low value realisation. The study further explored the opportunities and interventions that can help move low value materials to high value.

  1. What is a textile waste value chain? What are its components?

India has a well integrated, albeit unorganised industry to deal with textile waste leading to informality and difficulties in traceability of waste

Sorting is performed manually by workers through touch and feel, based on specifications from recyclers on size, colour and composition of waste. Two to three levels of sorters and aggregators exist in the value chain and the role of the last level aggregator is not only to sort the waste but also to store the waste until adequate demand comes in. However, due to the unorganised nature of the value chain, transparency and communication on availability and requirement of waste becomes challenging, leading to leakage or under-utilisation of waste.

 Illustration 17: Overview of textile waste value chain in India 

  1. What are the factors determining the end use of pre-consumer waste?

The final level of waste sorting takes into account all the waste characteristics that determine its end use. Colour, material composition, contamination and fabric construction determine the recyclability of cutting waste. The characteristics of virgin yarn production process such as the manufacturing machine quality, strength and staple length of virgin fibre, etc., highly influence the recyclability of cotton fibre waste.  

Illustration 21: Factors determining end use of pre-consumer waste

  1. What is imported textile waste and how to treat it?

Imported textile waste forms 7% of total textile waste and falls within two categories- Mutilated Rags (HS Code: 6310) and Second-Hand Clothing (HS Code: 6309). Used clothing with signs of mutilation and wear and tear also fall under code 6310 and hence demarcation between the two categories is often very difficult. According to import policies, the used clothing category is a restricted trade in India and its import is only allowed in the Kandla Special Economic Zone (KASEZ). The KASEZ has 16 units which were set up to sort and grade imported used clothing and re-export them to other countries.[20] The import of mutilated rags, on the other hand, is a free trade allowed at all ports of India.