Recycled cotton & Climate crisis: An investigation

recycled cotton and climate crisis featured image

The Vogue publication that was released last week, has an amazing cover with the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg in a brilliant fashion. Do not take this picture for some promotion of a fashion brand. Rather, it was a direct attack on the fast fashion industry.

She said on Twitter, “You cannot mass produce fashion or consume “sustainably” as the world is shaped today. That is one of the many reasons why we will need a system change.”

Yes, we really need a system change. Some brands are really trying their best to reduce the environmental impact it makes while producing its products. But we are not making any significant progress. This is where recycled fabrics could come into place. Imagine how many fabrics we have made to date. About 50% of those fabrics could have ended up in waste.

Can we really use thrown-away fabric for making new fabrics? Cotton being the most popular fabric in the world, we will investigate whether recycled cotton can make a significant impact on fighting climate change.


What is recycled cotton?

Recycled cotton is cotton made from consumer waste or upcycled cotton fabrics. It is commonly referred to as regenerated cotton, reclaimed cotton, or shoddy. The raw material for recycling is mostly generated from two sources:

  1. Pre-consumer: These are the wastes created by yarn and fabric by-products.
  2. Post-consumer: Waste cotton items that are disposed of after use like garments, upholstery, towels, and household items to be repurposed.
Some Facts:
  • It is estimated that more than 20% of wastewater is produced by the fashion industry.
  • 8% of the total worldwide carbon emission is by industries in fashion.
  • 20,000 liters of water are needed to produce one kilogram of cotton.

”Fashion industry is widely believed to be the second-most polluting industry in the world”


How cotton yarns are produced from waste items?

  1. Collecting waste: Cotton waste is collected from various sources.
  2. Sorting: The collected waste is sorted into various categories based on color and type. This is a general sorting done by companies for getting better end results.
  3. Washed: The waste fabric is treated with detergent and another chemical to make it clean and fresh.
  4. Break down: The cellulose in the fabric is broken down using chemicals to get a product similar to raw cotton.
  5. Spinning: The raw material is then spun into fibers for making fabrics

The final yarn will be shorter in length with less strength. Most of the time, it is blended with other synthetic fibers to increase yarn strength.

Newly spun recycled yarns are purchased by factories to make various sustainable products around the globe.

“Recycled cotton is often combined with recycled plastic bottles to make clothing and textiles”


What are the benefits of Cotton recycling?

Cotton cultivation is a resource-intense crop. It uses a huge amount of water, pesticides, and insecticides. So if we use recycled cotton we can

  • Save approximately 765 cubic meters of water per tonne of recycled cotton.
  • Protect natural habitat from deforestation
  • Protect soil fertility
  • Reduce electricity consumption
  • Significant savings in pollution from agriculture
  • Create a circular economy
Properties of recycled cotton:
  • Recycled cotton looks and feels like regular cotton.
  • Durable
  • Lightweight
  • Breathable
  • Absorbent
  • Quick-drying
  • Printing and dying are easy effortless on recycled cotton.
  • It is recyclable or biodegradable.


Difference between Recycled cotton and Organic cotton

Now that we know what recycled cotton is and how it is made, it will be easy to understand the difference between organic cotton and recycled cotton.

Organic cotton is cotton that is cultivated without the use of chemical fertilizers by protecting the biodiversity and wellbeing of the soil.

Organic cotton cultivation does not use genetically modified seeds. The fertility of the soil is maintained by intercropping culture. Dependence on new water resources is shortened by harvesting rainwater.

Above all, cotton farming is still considered a resource-intense process, even if they are organic in nature. When compared with recycled fabric, organic cotton is less friendly to the earth. Recycled cotton does not add to the existing amount of cotton produced so far. Thus, it only uses them to produce new.


What are the challenges in recycling cotton?

Recycling cotton have tremendous benefits. But at the same time, cotton recycling brings challenges as well.

  1. Collection:

Collecting the waste cotton is a challenging task. The dumping point is distributed across the land areas. Pre-consumer waste collection needs to be collected from factories or industries. On the other hand, post-consumer waste needs to be collected from waste collectors and companies that deal in waste materials.

There are logistics involved here. Creating an opportunity for carbon emissions. Managing and getting all the resources in one place is a huge challenge in cotton recycling.

  1. Sorting:

It is easy to recycle pure cotton. But waste fabrics don’t get thrown away as per their composition. Most of the fabrics today are blended fabrics. It may be blended with spandex, polyester, etc for better performance. So the chances of getting the right raw material for recycling becomes a challenging task.

What the recycling companies do is a partner with waste collecting companies or sorting companies that use advanced technologies for sorting waste. They deliver the raw materials as per the clients’ requirements.

  1. Blending:

Recycled cotton is not recyclable in a continuous manner. Due to its soft yarn properties, synthetic fibers are added to recycled cotton. Thus making it difficult to recycle further.

As we move faster towards a sustainable centric society, more innovations and technological advancements will come to further make recycling easy.


What is the Certification in Recycled Cotton?

Certification helps buyers and consumers easily identify recycled products from the rest. At Dinesh Exports, we have taken the necessary steps towards attaining sustainable manufacturing. Some of the sustainability certifications we have are:

  1. GRS – Global Recycled Standard

“The Global Recycled Standard (GRS) is a voluntary product standard for tracking and verifying the content of recycled materials in a final product. The standard applies to the full supply chain and addresses traceability, environmental principles, social requirements, chemical content, and labeling.” – nsf.org

  1. OEKO-TEX Standard 100

“Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX is one of the world’s best-known labels for textiles tested for harmful substances. It stands for customer confidence and high product safety.” – oeko-tex.com

View all our compliance certifications here.


Recycled Fabrics from our collection

  1. Cotton All Over Print Fabric

Cotton All Over Print Fabric image

  1. Cotton Multi-Color Weft Stripe Fabric

Cotton Multi Color Weft Stripe Fabric image


View all


What is your thought on the effect the fashion industry has on climate change? Comment below.

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