The utilization method of the future is "upcycling".
Stephan Wiegand, the CEO of I:CO, an international textile recycling company tells about closed loop product cycle for the textile industry in an interview with Fibre2Fashion Correspondent Manushi Gandhi.
The name I:CO stands for “I collect". I:Collect AG is part of the SOEX Group and is based in Switzerland. I:CO provides the infrastructure to ensure that the valuable raw materials from these old textiles enter a closed loop production cycle and remain there. From collection to recycling, consumer goods are recycled and put to a new use. SOEX Group has more than 2,000 employees worldwide and currently processes around 700 tons of used items every day in more than 90 countries. I:CO has collection points all over Europe, North- and South America, as well as in Africa and Asia.
Stephan Wiegand is CEO of I:Collect AG since 2009. Before joining I:CO, Stephan worked in Europe at a purchasing association for hotels and restaurants in developing external employee structure for department stores and malls and in store marketing. He has developed concepts for large companies such as KAUFHOF, KARSTADT, Woolworth, Herti, PETRA, CEWI, ART, and P-COLLECTION.
Being the CEO of an internationally present textile recycling company, what is your opinion about intensive energy consumption while recycling of textile and other such products?
It’s less energy-intensive to reuse resources that are contained in used textiles and shoes than to use virgin materials. In my opinion, in the future there is no alternative to closed loops in which materials can 100% be reused in a truly endless cycle. Our resources are getting scarcer, raw materials are getting more expensive, and our landfills continue to grow. Reusing materials by upcycling them, which means by transforming them in a product of equal or higher quality, is much more efficient and sustainable than using solely virgin materials. Being more than just a mere textile recycler, I:CO offers with its take-back system a holistic infrastructure for such a closed loop.
Sir, Please tell us something about the functioning of I:CO and what have been significant achievements in the last few years?
I:CO is the global, end-to-end solutions provider for apparel, footwear and other textile reuse and recycling. Through its simple consumer and business take-back system and worldwide infrastructure, we aim to keep used clothing and shoes in a continuous closed loop product cycle. By integrating all stakeholders, our company offers a win-win situation for the environment, consumers, producers, retailers and charities alike.
The latest significant achievement is our I:CO City Initiative with the City of San Francisco which was launched on January 15th 2014. It’s goal is to create a public, private and non-profit infrastructure to make it easier, convenient and rewarding for residents and businesses to recycle textile related items. Additionally, in October 2013, we started collecting used clothing and shoes in Nairobi/ Kenya. That means, we are integrating the second-hand markets in the global product loop and are establishing at the same time a local recycling industry.
What are the challenges or obstacles faced in the process of textile recycling? How can those be tackled?
One of the challenges we are facing is the development of products and technologies that enable closed loop product cycles. For that purpose, we have to align all stakeholders involved in this process. To facilitate this, we founded an alliance, global network of partners and companies that share our mission of a closed loop product cycle for the textile industry.
Which countries or regions are practicing textile recycling extensively and what is the scope of textile recycling in Asian countries?
On a global level, textile recycling in Europe and North America is practised on a relatively large scale. We just entered the Asian market last year and made very good experiences so far. The local companies, governments and people are very interested in sustainability topics and I think the awareness will continue to grow in the next years. Asia will be one of the most important markets for textile recycling to come. It is reasonable to raise awareness for sustainability issues there where the textile industry grows fastest and the majority of the upcoming trends are created.
"Recycled textiles sell at a lower rate and there is less profit margin." Please present your views on this statement.
As I already stated, in my opinion there is no alternative to closed loop products.
Technical developments will go on and the quality of upcycled materials soon will match the quality of virgin materials. And the prices will become more stable than they are now because at present they are depending on oil and cotton. Profit margins can in the long run be even higher. And there is of course a tremendous environmental benefit.