Wilson L.
Zero Waste Scotland, Stirling, Scotland

Keywords: sustainability; circular economy; textiles; closed loop technologies.

Abstract: The Scottish textiles industry is worth £956 million to the Scottish economy and is the seventh biggest contributor to it. Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) is spearheading a series of initiatives in Scotland with other organisations, including universities that will encourage the introduction and, further uptake of, resource efficient and sustainable materials and processes into textile supply chains and the economy, to contribute to a sustainable circular economy model for the sector.

In April 2014, the Scottish Government launched the Textiles Futures Forum which is providing a £450,000 Challenge Fund. The key aim is to develop research initiatives with industry and academia that push sustainability and resource efficiency to the fore. Consequently, as a result of that and an internal report submitted to ZWS in 2014, ZWS is now focussing on five key areas to achieve that key aim through circular economy models.

It is implementing an action plan which will offer support to the textile industry to explore ‘closed loop’ manufacturing as well as funds for fashion designers to explore concepts such as zero waste pattern design, luxury apparel from alternative textiles such as recycled polyethylene terephthalate and natural fibres such as Scottish rare breed wool. A master class skills programme, delivered by leading UK and international experts, will bring together industry, academia, and higher education professionals to engage in learning about the circular economy. These initiatives will be evaluated to inform future work plans and learning.


Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) was initially a programme of the Waste Resource Action Programme UK (WRAP UK). On 1 July 2014, ZWS was launched formally as an independent Scottish not-for-profit company.

ZWS’ textiles portfolio is a key sector within the Circular Economy Team portfolio, which also covers Oil and Gas Decommissioning and Circular Economy Business Models. The textiles sector is the seventh most important contributor to the Scottish economy, with an annual turnover of £956 million. Exports of its products are valued at £375 million. There are over 570 companies directly employing about 9,000 people across Scotland, with 55% of these companies having fewer than 10 employees.

Global economic trends have influenced, positively, the export of luxury goods for the Scottish textiles sector. In October 2013, it reported growth levels 12 per cent above the 2020 target. It has revised its targets to achieve between £1.2 and £1.5 billion in turnover growth by 2020. These revised figures recognise the significant gains to be made in international trade and a 50 per cent increase in exports is predicted by 2017 (Scottish Government, 2014). Sixty-four per cent of textile production in Scotland is for luxury export goods (Scottish Enterprise, 2014). Chanel, for example, announced in April 2014 that it would create 100 new jobs over the next three years at its plant in Hawick, having bought out a knitwear company in 2012 and established itself in the Scottish Borders (Knitting Industry, 2014).

This increased textiles and apparel productivity could contribute to global waste and environmental impacts but it can be reduced by designing and manufacturing goods that follow circular economy guidelines, or by creating products with a low carbon impact. Scotland is already developing key products and customers in this market, such as the Harris Tweed Authority, which reported a 25% sales increase in 2013 (Harris Tweed Authority, 2013).

ZWS’s key aim, then, is to ensure this innovative and re-energised sector builds in circular economic approaches that not only minimise global impacts, and without economic detriment to individual businesses, but that sees the circular economy as a key tenet of any business model. The textiles industry must work more closely with academia and recognise mutual advantages. The goal is to make the textiles industry in Scotland more resource efficient, sustainable and competitive in a global market, while underpinned by mutual learning across industry and academia.

In a broader context, this work is part of ZWS’ support of the Scottish Government’s Zero Waste Plan (Scottish Government, 2010) which has set ambitious targets to achieve 70% recycling and a maximum 5% to landfill by 2025 for all Scotland’s waste. ‘Safeguarding Scotland’s Resources’, launched on 9 June 2013, is the Scottish Government’s programme to reduce waste and create a more productive and circular economy (Scottish Government, 2013) with one clear benefit: ‘There is a potential saving of £2.9 billion through straightforward resource efficiency that this programme will help tap.’ The Scottish Government has sealed its commitment by being the first government to join the Ellen MacArthur Foundation CE 100 (Scottish Government, 2013).

The circular economy is, of course, more than just another name for ‘reuse’. As the Ellen MacArthur Foundation says:

‘The circular economy is a generic term for an economy that is regenerative by design. Materials flows are of two types, biological materials, designed to re-enter the biosphere, and technical materials, designed to circulate with minimal loss of quality, in turn entraining the shift towards an economy ultimately powered by renewable energy.’ (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2012)

To help shape its work plan for textiles, ZWS commissioned research which was completed and published internally in September 2014. It concluded that the Scottish textile industry is innovative in key sectors, particularly 1) technical textiles and 2) computer-aided design. However, in both cases, the overarching objective is either to increase business competitiveness or improve resource efficiency, rather than closed loop sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

Report findings

The report recommended that the Scottish textile industry should focus on strengthening what it already does well and bolster its sustainability activities by linking to provenance, traceability, durability and quality. Inspiration should come from the luxury goods sector and also, in a more modest way, from Scandinavian brands such as Filippa K, where longevity is an explicit brand strategy.

In April 2014, the Scottish Government launched the Textiles Futures Forum (TFF) which is providing a £450,000 Challenge Fund. With funding from the Scottish Funding Council, the aim is to develop research initiatives with industry and academia that push sustainability and resource efficiency to the fore.

The report submitted to ZWS, its own analysis of its work to 2014, and the TFF initiative, identified the challenges and opportunities that can make the Scottish textile industry more materially circular. Consequently, ZWS is now focussing on five key areas:

  1. Industry and academia – skills training
  2. Fibre-processing facility
  3. Textiles and apparel
  4. New business model research
  5. Funding to experiment with closed loop technologies and systems.

This paper outlines ZWS’ work plan for the first three key areas.

Industry and academia – skills training

The report identified the need for skills development for the textile sector that would see a greater integration between industry and academia to achieve greater circularity.

To reach this goal, ZWS will deliver master classes between April-December 2015.

Participants will learn about resource efficiency and skills for a circular economy, such as design for disassembly and fibre processing, zero waste pattern design and new dyeing and printing technologies.

The majority of the 16 places for each course will be allocated to industry, with a quarter allocated to academia and educationists who are developing curricula. Attendance is by invitation and application and candidates must evidence how they will cascade the learning within their business and to colleagues.

Each facilitator will travel to Scotland from other parts of the UK or Europe (where possible, webinars will be used). To maximise facilitators’ visits and learning, a student lecture series will accommodate up to 200 students at each lecture.

Skills Development Scotland has confirmed that it is complementary to the Scottish Textiles Skills Action Plan that has been funded recently by the Scottish Funding Council while the Textile Institute has expressed an interest in accrediting the master classes.

The impact of the participants’ learning experience will be evaluated by an independent consultant documenting how they have cascaded their learning or implemented new skills in their business processes.

Fibre-processing facility

Scotland does not have a fibre or bulk waste textile processing plant. In 2012, a ZWS report outlined the economic case for a mattress recycling facility. ZWS supports a fibre- processing facility in Scotland that would process the numerous lower-grade bulk textiles which currently go to landfill, including carpets, mattresses and post-industrial waste. It would also boost investment and jobs, adding value to materials which are currently worth little. For example, if 60% of mattresses can be recycled (7,200 tonnes equates to 335,000 units), the number of direct jobs created is estimated at 80, based on the ZWS business case of eight jobs per 34,200 units.

Such a facility would also enable Scotland to process products from across the UK and achieve a market share of this aspect of the textiles economy. Cotton and polyester constitute, respectively, half and one quarter of the UK clothing fibre mix and so are key priorities for fibre processing. Mixed fibres such as wool and nylon are characteristic of carpet construction and mixed fibre extrusion is still a developing area. In the case of carpets, Anglo Carpets in England employs 35 people to process 1,200 tonnes. Carpet Cycle employs 50 people for 5,500 tonnes. Mid-point is one person per 75 tonnes processed. If Scotland could achieve some of that market share and avoid its current transport costs that would support broader circular economy aims for the textile industry.

ZWS’ specific priorities for the reprocessing of cotton and polyester are based on recommendations in the WRAP report, UK Textile Product Flow and Market Development Opportunities. These are to investigate the potential for Scotland to reprocess cotton and polyester as fibre, or feedstock, at cost parity to virgin material. ZWS recognises that scale could limit implementation of a reprocessing infrastructure therefore this work plan will be subject to constant review.

The immediate ZWS priorities for the fibre- processing facility are:

  • To identify candidate technologies for fibre processing; and the financial support required to enable proof of design, trialling and scale-up.
  • To create a route map of the actions needed to deliver a commercially-viable service.

Textiles and apparel

“Eighty percent of a product’s environmental and economic costs (are) committed by the final design stage before production begins” (Graedel et al, 1995, p. 257).

To address this, ZWS launched the first Circular Economy Textiles and Apparel Grant Fund in December 2014. It is open to textile and apparel designers who want to apply more circular economic and resource-efficient design practice to new products and textile construction, such as zero waste garment design, design for disassembly, sourcing and designing with alternative fibres such as recycled P.E.T. and fibre dying and processes.

The fund criteria suggest applicants should:

  • Design new textile or apparel products that could be manufactured in Scotland on a commercial scale or have a significant impact on the current design of a product design process
  • Redesign a current product from their business model but apply circular econ-my and/or resource efficient principles
  • Research and develop new textile and/or apparel collections that aim to apply circular economy principles or resource efficiency.

Seventy-two applications were downloaded and 12 applications received. Five grants were awarded, at £7000 per recipient. This included a cash grant, mentor fees and a travel allowance to visit mentors. Each recipient proposed to push the technical boundaries of their product by working towards zero waste or design for disassembly, or with new materials such as Returnity©, 100% recycled polyester. Within the companies awarded funding, there is a heavy emphasis on natural fibres, exploring the reinvigoration of Scottish sheep breeds.

Each recipient company will have an expert mentor at the early R&D stages, including circular economy textile experts from the University of the Arts London and Leeds University, as well as international experts Refinity©. ZWS’ ambition is to identify products that demonstrate where the niche is for Scotland in the circular economy, closed loop design and production. Each company is a relatively new business. Some owners have a degree of experience of taking products to market; two of the companies have experience in wider product design and environmental skills.

The fund received wide media coverage in both textiles and resource industry press across the UK. Scotland has a small but growing fashion social media community with a large following and that ensured that community was encouraged to submit applications.

ZWS received no applications from technical textile SMEs such as the growing outdoor apparel industry, for example, companies such as Keela and Endura performance cycle wear, which would have been welcome.

More broadly, demand for hand-crafted products that draw on Scotland’s textile heritage and once declining Scottish skills such as hand knitting, have been invigorated by knitwear design companies such as Eribé knitwear in Galashiels in the Borders. It has 200 registered hand knitters who can earn between £100-£400 per month producing contemporary Scottish knitwear for export, mainly to China and Japan. Other Scottish hand knit companies, such as Di Gilpin, in Largoward, Fife, have been involved in product design for Nike, supporting the development of Nike Flyknit® running shoes (The Scotsman, 2015), demonstrating the trend for global brand to reference craft heritage as part of their product development strategy.

Through support from Scottish Enterprise, companies such as Eribé have doubled their turnover in five years, mainly through exporting (Scottish Government, 2014,). Their challenge is to source sustainable Scottish raw materials such as wool from Scotland (other than from Shetland) and a growing number of small sheep crofts. The textile sector must be aware, however, that a revival in craft heritage must pay heed to existing industry frameworks. For example, since 1952, a sheep farmer with more than four sheep is required, legally, to sell wool only through the British Wool Marketing Board (BWMB). The penalty, if enforced, is still a six- month jail term. In 1995, this legislation was relaxed to allow farmers to sell wool only for direct export.

International relations – Scandinavia

The report submitted to ZWS for internal use found evidence of global trends, and examples of current closed loop practice and circular economy textile models in other countries, including the UK, that could be applicable to Scotland.

The report’s researchers suggested finding case studies in Europe that might provide inspiration and examples for Scottish textile businesses to follow. Scandinavia was the focus and a number of circular economy examples in textiles were identified.

The Research Council of Norway (NICE) funded a three-year project (2010-13) valued at €500,000, with a view to identifying and promoting the benefits of textiles made of Norwegian wool to local consumers. When the project ended, NICE wanted to continue its research and use the heritage and technology it had discovered to develop further consumer demand for Norwegian wool and create a label of provenance, similar to Harris Tweed, called the Nordic Swan eco label. As part of this research, they chose to visit Shetland where fleece is gathered from over 700 crofters to produce Shetland wool.

Norway also developed a product which was given an international standard approved Cradle to Cradle (Research Council of Norway, 2013). The Dutch airline, KLM, wanted to create Cradle to Cradle carpeting working with Desso. Norwegian wool was tested for chemicals, etc and was approved. On behalf of ZWS, the report’s researchers brokered an introduction to the National Institute for Consumer Research (SIFO).This resulted in the potential to develop research collaborations around wool and revise the heritage of Scottish and Norwegian knitwear. In this way, each country can work towards a model of provenance, traceability, durability and quality, as per the four key values mentioned earlier that the ZWS-commissioned report recommends.


Measuring the impact of a circular economy approach is a task for the long term and ZWS knows, from industry examples such as TENCEL® by Lenzing (Lenzing Group, 2014), that it can take up to 30 years to develop a product that revolutionises industry.

‘The production of TENCEL® is revolutionary. The production process is based on a solvent spinning process and represents the greatest accomplishment in cellulosic fibre technology. The unique closed loop production process makes TENCEL® the fibre of the future: eco- friendly and economical.’ (Lenzing Group, 2014)

This paper has outlined ZWS’s strategy, the reports and initiatives that are behind it, and our work plans for the Scottish textiles industry. The key focus is supporting resource-efficient, circular economy models in the sector. ZWS is supporting a sustainable textiles industry that will generate long-term growth as part of a circular economy and one that is aligned with the Scottish Government’s overarching zero waste targets for 2025.


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Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2012) Towards the circular Economy: Economic and Business Rational for an accelerated transition. Retrieved from: http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org

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