Recycled materials and certification: what you need to know!

Do you remember that in March 2022, the European Union unveiled its strategy around a key issue? Sustainable and circular textiles.

What was its purpose? Making the textile industry greener. And to achieve this, the measures must take into account the entire life cycle of the product (clothing, bedding, bags and accessories).

The main requirements include:

  • regulated working conditions throughout the manufacturing and distribution process;
  • transparency towards the end consumer;
  • strict controls on all production and treatment processes, as well as waste management.

Not to mention one of the aspects we're going to explore in this article: the proportion of recycled fibers in the composition of textile products. This helps to avoid excessive consumption of raw materials by reusing pre-existing materials.

The ambition is fully in line with the IPCC's 2022 report, which established a list of actions aimed at reducing the ecological footprint for each line of business. The industry - and therefore textiles - is included and is invited to "favor more sustainable materials, recycling and waste reduction" (Source: Ecocert |New IPCC report: the CLIMATE solutions we need - April 2022)

To ensure the coherence and effectiveness of the efforts made by the various players, they must comply with strict specifications, monitored by independent, neutral and objective bodies.

This is where certification comes in, which is our topic today. In other words, the RCS and GRS certifications, which cover the use of recycled materials in the textile world and beyond.

Here's what you need to know!

Recycled materials - a hot topic!

Some key figures:

Currently, Europeans throw away 11 kg of textiles a year. Around the world, the equivalent of a truckload of textiles is thrown away every second.

Let's also consider that more than half of the world's textile fibers produced in 2020 were polyester, derived from a non-renewable source: oil.

Finally, consumption of textile products is expected to increase by more than 60% by 2030.

A sad situation that is forcing the various players in the textile sector to find and, above all, adopt truly more sustainable solutions. One of these solutions is the recycling of pre-existing materials that were initially destined to be thrown away.

Certification will guide us through this transition, confirming a tangible and verifiable approach, monitored by an impartial third-party body.

Who develops, promotes and updates the certification?

In this case, it's Textile Exchange, a global non-profit organization working to sustainably and positively transform the textile industry.

To this end, its program includes several standards, including RCS and GRS. Textile Exchange members and ambassadors meet in committees and conferences or around round tables to jointly refine the role of these certifications throughout the chain, their differences, their areas of application, the use of their logos, etc.

These certifications cover materials, processing, traceability and the end of life of textile industry products.

Ultimately, all of the Textile Exchange's reflections work towards a fundamental goal: to have a positive impact on water, soil, air, animals and the human population.

What is the purpose of RCS certification?

The RCS (Recycled Claim Standard) certification can be applied to textile companies that produce, weave, dye and distribute, as well as companies that recycle and transform recycled materials. This label allows them to sell products made with at least 5% recycled materials.

The main objective is to guarantee the traceability of recycled raw materials throughout the production, supply and distribution chain.

The presence and quantity of recycled material in the composition of a finished product is controlled by an independent third-party body.

Once the checks have been carried out and confirmed by an approved certification body such as Ecocert, the RCS logo can be used on the product in question. There are two levels:

Level 1: RCS 100

The product contains at least 95% recycled materials;

Level 2: RCS blended

The product contains between 5 and 95% recycled materials.

In conclusion…

RCS certification attests to the presence, quantity and traceability of recycled materials in the product with the help of an independent certification body.

There are two levels of RCS certification, depending on whether the finished product contains more or less than 95% recycled materials.

What is the purpose of GRS certification?

The GRS (Global Recycled Standard) certification is more comprehensive in that it certifies a product's recycled materials, while also including strict environmental and social dimensions in its specifications. Initially created by Control Union, it has been owned by Textile Exchange since 2011 and is updated approximately every three to five years. The current version, 4.0, has been in force since 2017.

The main objective is to increase the use of recycled materials in a finished product, while monitoring social and environmental practices throughout the manufacturing process.

The presence and quantity of recycled materials, the absence of toxic chemicals and respect for workers' fundamental rights are monitored by an independent body.

What does GRS certification guarantee?

  • At least 20% recycled materials;
  • A truly recycled material, as opposed to new products manufactured for the sole purpose of being directly recycled;
  • Responsible procedures: production, water treatment, waste management;
  • Respect for workers' fundamental rights.

In conclusion…

GRS certification can involve a finished product containing at least 20% recycled materials.

production and treatment processes (water and waste) must be carried out sustainably and in accordance with the requirements of the GRS specifications. This standard refers to products containing at least 20% recycled materials, but to include the logo on a product's label, it must contain at least 50%.

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