The sheer size of the Textile, Clothing, Leather, and Footwear (TCLF) industry is impressive and even more, its role plaid in our daily lives: besides providing cover and useful items for the quotidian, garment and textiles TCLF industry plays a vital role in culture, art and has an incredible impact on social subjects helping define who they are and aspire to be. Today, the TCLF industry is at a crossroads.
The problems to be solved are complex, systemic and of great consequence. From an ecological perspective, the textile industry is considered one of the most polluting industries in the world due to the use of harmful chemicals, high consumption of water and energy, generation of large quantities of solid and gaseous wastes, huge fuel consumption for transportation and use of non-biodegradable packaging materials (Choudhury, 2014); (https://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/waste/resource-efficiency/textiles-in-europe-s-circular-economy).
TCLF is the fourth-worst-ranked pressure category for use of primary raw materials and water (after food, housing and transport). Most of the pressures and impacts related to the consumption of Textiles, Clothing, Leather, and Footwear in Europe occur in other regions of the world, where the majority of production takes place. This is the case for 85 % of the primary raw materials use, 92 % of the water use, 93 % of the land use and 76 % of the greenhouse gas emissions. Another major environmental challenge relates to the end of the product life cycle. Textile waste is a huge problem around the globe. The majority of textile waste still ends up being incinerated or landfilled.
Large amounts of used post-consumer clothing are exported from developed countries to developing countries, for example, from Europe to Africa. That creates a challenge for local textile production, which is not able to compete with the imported used textiles. That also shifts the textile waste problem from developed countries to developing countries, adding to their environmental and waste challenges. In March 2016, the governments of the East African Community, which includes Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, proposed a ban on imports of second-hand clothes to their regional trade bloc. While there are many traders earning a living through the sale of these donations, the governments proposing this ban argue that they will be able to create better jobs within the textile industry, more than offsetting any economic loss faced by the traders. Reducing the environmental and climate pressures and impacts from textiles production and consumption — while maintaining economic and social benefits — is at our rich but it will need a systemic deep game-change, rethinking the way TCLF industry produces and consumes.
Three key driving forces must be considered: 1. The TCLF industry must jump into the sustainable bio-economy era, which is by definition circular, circularity applied to a fossil-based production model is not the way forward; 2. Invest in research and process technology innovation based on the most advanced outreaches in environmental and industrial biotechnologies and primarily novel enzyme 3. Team up with the major developing and emerging economies which are an integral part of the value chain.
This is what the BioCRES project aims to do. BioCRES is a project concept designed by European Research labs and businesses, localised in Central European countries (Italy, Croatia, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Turkey), within the framework of Interreg Central Europe. BioCRES proposes to carry out an exemplary and highly transferable systemic action through the integrated use of Industrial biotechnologies, ICT (IA, IoT, Digital advanced communication), and Eco – Design as powerful drivers for new sustainable industrial ecosystems and fast job creation. BioCRES proposes to transform natural resource waste into entirely new bio-based products for the textile, packaging and nutraceutical markets destinated to new generation consumers in a virtuous loop with the social development of the communities.
The project endeavours to achieve this goal through the installation of a novel flexible small-scale biorefinery (combining enzyme with mild thermomechanical technologies) in pilot European rural areas as the driver of front-run innovation in circular bio-economy models with multiple effects on cross-connected industries (textile, speciality paper & packaging, nutraceutical industry ecosystems).
In particular, the multipurpose modular bio-refinery technology GINEXTRA®, already a European Registered Brand (EUIPO Registration Number 018019052), will enable integral and innovative fractionation process to produce good-quality cellulose, lignin and hemicellulose for established or newly emerging market applications.
The BioCREs project will install small biorefineries in the pilot territories to process plants and lignocellulosic waste deriving from the maintenance of natural ecosystems, fibre crops’ cultivation, and spontaneous vegetation. Local business ecosystems (bio-clusters) will emerge around the small-scale GINEXTRA® biorefineries. Such ecosystems will adhere to a social principle of sustainability which binds together aware citizenship, community identity and landscape preservation with a vibrant and fast-growing new circular bio-economy-based industry.