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Textile Waste - Glossary of Terms

Not sure what a word means in the context of the textiles industry? Find definitions and explanations here.

Got a textile-related term you're wondering about that you don't see here? Contact us and we'll add it to our Textile Waste Glossary.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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A

Aerobic digestion, Aerobic composting
A process through which bacteria break down organic matter - such as animal manure, wastewater biosolids, and food wastes - with the requirement of oxygen. Aerobic digestion and composting requires oxygen-thriving bacteria to break down matter, while anaerobic digestion and composting requires bacteria that thrive without oxygen.

Anaerobic digestion, Anaerobic composting
A process through which bacteria break down organic matter - such as animal manure, wastewater biosolids, and food wastes - in the absence of oxygen. This can be in controlled settings as with incineration, or at-home simple closed containers.

Apparel
A term used in industry to cover all types of soft clothing items, including womenswear, menswear, childrenswear, sleepwear, lingerie etc.

B

Biodegradable
The term biodegradable refers to any material that can be broken down by microorganisms (bacteria and fungi) and assimilated into the natural environment through a naturally occurring process. When an object “biodegrades”, its original composition degrades into simple components like biomass, carbon dioxide, and water. Used in industry terms, products can only be labelled “biodegradable” if it has been tested; time of degradation depends on both the chemical composition of the object and the way that it's stored i.e. landfill is neither hot enough for the bacteria involved in anaerobic digestion to thrive, nor with enough oxygen for aerobic digestion to thrive, so degradation will not occur quickly.

See also compostable.

C

Chemical recycling
An industrial process that uses solvents to break down the textile waste back into its polymers i.e. depolymerise the molecular structure of materials. Current infrastructure does not allow the separation of synthetic and natural fibres, and so while chemical recycling can be used on naturally-derived textiles such as cotton to create a regenerated fibre, it is difficult to produce a valuable yarn from cotton-polyester blended textiles. Chemical recycling is most useful for converting synthetic textiles into recycled fibre as their physical properties tend to be as strong as with virgin fibre.

See also mechanical recycling.

Circular economy
The circular economy is founded on three principles: eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials, and regenerate nature. As defined by charity Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the circular economy is, “a transition to renewable energy and materials. A circular economy decouples economic activity from the consumption of finite resources.”

Circularity
In comparison to a circular economy, circularity removes economic production from the equation. Circularity relates to all cycles where a cyclical motion is preferential or already in place over a linear motion. As with all cycles there are waste streams: the circular economy addresses solutions to use these waste streams by being cyclical rather than linear; however, circularity addresses solutions to use these waste streams without necessarily any monetary consideration. Think about the composting system of nature: trees shed leaves > bacteria decompose leaves > organic matter provides nutrients for new seeds > new trees grow. If this is transferred to a circular economy way of thinking, then the outputs can be converted for economical resources, for instance bioenergy from the human-driven composting system. Both are circular, yet one has an instant economical value.

Compostable
Used to describe a product that can biodegrade into non-toxic, natural elements, compostable refers to residential composting as well as commercial composting i.e. human-driven circumstances. Compostable products under a biodegradation process require microorganisms, humidity, and heat to yield a finished “compost” product, preferably organic matter that can be cycled into an existing system. Products legally need to be labelled with the correct type of composting required for the materials to break down successfully.

Cut-Make-Trim
Also known as CMT, cut-make-and-trim production is where an apparel factory takes your designs and produces them in three stages. It is usually done under a single factory for control and inspection purposes. Cut refers to the laying of fabric and cutting to size following graded paper patterns. Make refers to the item manufacturing, such as clothing or leather goods, all the way from fabric pieces to finished product. Trim refers to the final touches of a product, including overall quality control that covers trimming threads, repairing damage and packing up/labelling the item for distribution.

Cutting room floor waste
Also known as cutting floor waste, this is specifically the thread, yarn and fabric offcuts or damages discarded during the production process. They are generally small and irregularly shaped.

D

Deadstock
Any textile item (yarn, fabric or finished goods) that is unable to be sold, either by the production unit, retailer or maker. It has been purchased with an agreement from manufacturer to brand, but has not been sold to an end consumer. Deadstock can be textile items that remain with the factory (and generally have been purchased but not collected by the brand), or are found at designer studios or in retail stores.

See also overstock.

Downcycling
Any work done to textile waste that reduces its value is classed as downcycling, and mostly relates to the stepping down of a material’s function i.e. from clothing to rags.

See also upcycling.

E

End-of-roll
End-of-roll is a term that determines origin; this is where a textile (fabric or trims) has been ordered and used, but there is a small amount remaining on the roll. This can be because the cut-make-trim was resource efficient, less products were bought and subsequently made, or the producer had included additional yardage. It can also be because it was over-ordered in the first place.

F

Fabric
A fabric is a pliable and cuttable material that has been created by converting yarns, and sometimes fibres. Fabrics are produced by interlacing fibres or yarns using weaving or knitting construction methods, though some are produced as non-wovens to create a sheet material.

Factory, Production unit, Production facility, Manufacturer
Denotes any facility who manufactures textile products for sale. These terms generally refer to the production of finished goods, rather than textile inputs upstream i.e. yarns and fabrics.

Fibre
A raw material of natural or artificial origin that can be converted into yarns and subsequently fabrics, usually of a shorter staple and not continuous in length.

Filament

In textiles, filament refers to a continuous length of fibre, either of synthetic or natural origin, such as silk, as opposed to a staple.

G

Greenhouse effect
The greenhouse effect happens when certain gases - known as greenhouse gases - collect in Earth’s atmosphere. These gases, which occur naturally in the atmosphere, include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide, and fluorinated gases sometimes known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Greenhouse gases let the sun’s light shine onto the Earth’s surface, but they trap the heat that reflects back up into the atmosphere. In this way, they act like the insulating glass walls of a greenhouse. While the greenhouse effect is necessary to sustain a liveable climate, increase in harmful human activities add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, trapping unprecedented amounts of heat and contributing to global warming. 

H

Hand feel
Also known as the handle, the hand feel is simply how your textiles feel in the hand. It is used in textiles to describe properties such as the weight and other characteristics such as the warmth or texture.

I

Incineration
As opposed to landfill where materials are disposed of and left to rot, incineration is a more managed waste treatment process that burns waste materials, specifically using “controlled–flame combustion” or “calcination”, destroying the organic constituents in waste materials. The majority of incinerators nowadays - known as “waste-to-energy plants” - will capture the broken down organic constituents as ash, gas and heat to convert into energy. As with landfill, harmful substances can still be emitted as pollutants in air and water.

See also landfill.

Industrial Textile Waste
Used interchangeably with pre-consumer waste, this is any textile waste that is found within a production facility, and can be collected from the fibre to the finished goods stage.

K

Knitted, Knitting
Knitting is a method of construction that loops yarn in a row, either flat or round (tubular knitting). Unlike woven fabrics, knitted fabrics have a natural elasticity due to this looped construction. Knitting can be done via hand or machine.

L

Landfill

A disposal site for waste materials, usually in a pit or as a mound.

M

Man-made fibre

Classified generally as synthetically obtained, man-made fibres are those that come from a laboratory setting rather than natural plant or animal sources. The term man-made can however crop up when a natural fibre has been converted via the use of chemical processes, such as with “regenerated cellulosics” including lyocell.

Material
In contrast to the characteristic of malleability that fabric requires, a material concerns anything that can be used to make something, whether it be soft or hard e.g. a fabric or concrete or plastic

Mechanical recycling

An industrial process that uses a machine with teeth and knives to shred textiles. The short staple fibre that results from this mechanical shredding needs to be respun in order to be used as a yarn for fabric production. This is known as a “cottonised” yarn because it is short like cotton fibres. The shredded textiles can also be broken down using solvents into a pulp that is spread like paper to create a non-woven textile sheet. This is classed as a regenerated fibre.

Mill

A fibre or fabric production facility would be called a mill, thought it may also be referred to as a fabric or yarn manufacturer. You may come across spinning mill in reference to the yarn production stage, and fabric mill in reference to the fabric production stage.

N

Natural fibre
A natural fibre comes directly from nature and is split into a few categories: vegetable fibres (cellulose), animal fibres (protein) and mineral fibres. These categories are then further split into bast fibres (ramie or nettle, hemp, flax and jute), leaf fibres (sisal, pineapple, abaca/banana) and seed hair fibres (cotton, kapok). Animal fibres include wool (sheep, alpaca, camel, vicuña, angora, mohair, cashmere) and silk. Mineral fibres cover glass, asbestos and heavy metals, meaning they are less likely to be a part of textile production. Apart from silk, natural fibres are classified as staple fibres. As animal skins and hides do not have a fibrous structure, while you would class any hair from these skins as fibre - as with the case of wool - the skin itself is technically a non-woven. Therefore, leather, exotic skins and fur are natural materials, but they are processed as if they are a non-woven rather than a fibre i.e. they are not spun into yarn and woven or knitted.

See also synthetic fibre.

Non-woven
Non-woven fabrics are denoted as having no organised geometrical structure. Unlike woven or knitted fabrics, they are created by interlocking or bonding fibres together. Usually you would not use yarns for this construction method. There are many other materials that are non-woven, such as plastic sheeting, but as this does not require the input of fibres, it would simply be classed as a material.

O

Overstock
In contrast to deadstock, overstock explains why the textile item (yarn, fabric or finished goods) is unable to be sold: it describes a situation wherein the stock was deliberately over-purchased by the brand to the manufacturer (or by the manufacturer from a subcontractor). Over-purchasing can be done to ensure a lower cost-per-item, to ensure no delays in production by having items to hand, or to cover any potential damages that may occur.

P

Post-Consumer Waste
In reference to textiles, this is any textile waste that comes from the consumer, and has already passed through both the producer and the retailer into the public. Post-consumer waste can refer to any type of textiles as long as it comes from the end consumer.

Post-Industrial Waste, Post-Industrial Consumer Waste
Used to cover any waste textiles after the production facility has sold them onto the next stage, including deadstock, overstock, surplus and post-consumer discard.

Pre-Consumer Waste
In reference to textiles, pre-consumer waste is any textile waste found within a production facility that cannot or was not used for its intended purpose. This encompasses the above terms of surplus, deadstock and overstock, but additionally includes cutting floor (or cutting room floor) waste such as offcuts from the cut stage, threads from the trim stage and any damages. It may also cover raw fibre inputs that did not pass quality control.

R

Recycle, Recycling, Textile recycling
The “re” in recycling denotes how a material is being processed to be turned back into itself or something else. Generally, with recycling, we are anticipating that there is the same value inherent in the material when it comes out as for when it went in. Textile recycling might also be a form of upcycling or downcycling. For example, cutting room floor waste has no other function, so collecting and spinning it as a “recycled yarn” gives it a higher value. On the other hand, clothing discard has inherent energy and value by being a finished good, therefore shredding it to create a new fibre lowers the value. 

See also downcycling and upcycling.

Re-use
Generally speaking, re-use is utilising the textiles in the same or very similar way as they were originally intended.

Regenerated fibre

Regenerated fibres tend to be classified also as man-made fibres or regenerated cellulosics, simply because whether your raw ingredient is from a natural or a synthetic source, the process to regenerate one ingredient into another requires artificial processes. For example, a recycled cotton fibre will be broken down using solvents to create a pulp that can then be extruded as a new fibre, known under the fibre name lyocell. It is no longer cotton, but it is also not fully synthetic.

Repurpose
Taking the textile waste to utilise it in a way other than its intended purpose. Repurposing can add value by upcycling (for example, using bike inner tubes to create accessories), or decrease value by downcycling (for example by cutting up a shirt to be rags), even without deliberate effort.

S

Sample
Samples are made by production factories - usually the CMT - so that brands can address the fit, finish, colour and style of a textile item. 

Staple
In textiles, staple refers to the length of a raw fibre, and is in contrast to the continuous length of a filament.

Surplus
In reference to textiles, surplus is anything left over at the production factory or with the retailer once purchases have been completed (yarn, fabric or finished goods). The term can be used interchangeably with deadstock or overstock, though it usually covers items that were produced accidentally or as sampling as these are surplus to the purchasing agreement. Surplus can also refer to textile items ordered by brands to the manufacturer, yet not actually purchased or collected, as these have been produced without need and remain with the production factory.

Synthetic fibre

A synthetic fibre is produced using polymers that are obtained when fossil fuels (specifically byproducts of petroleum oil and natural gas) are transformed in chemical processes into a filament, known as polymerisation. The filament is directly used in spinning - known as extrusion - to create a yarn, or otherwise converted into pellets for later use.

 

T

Textile export
A waste stream for textile discard where textile waste is exported to another country, and is witnessed as large wrapped bales. It is rare to have textile imports in developed Western countries.

Textile discard, Clothing discard
A term generally used in reflection of unwanted textiles discarded from homes, production factories or retailers into charity shops, collection banks and residual bin waste. Textile discard encompasses all types of textile waste, including bedding, carpets and mattresses. Clothing discard tends to refer to soft items of apparel. Statistical reports often separate footwear and accessories into their own category, but may be lumped together with textile discard as a whole.

Textile waste
Textile waste is anything that has not found a purpose in its intended supply chain, and therefore does not hold value to the manufacturer, producer or maker. 

Textiles
Any filament, fibre, or yarn that can be made into fabric or cloth, and the resulting material itself.

U

Upcycling

Taking textile waste to add value to it is upcycling. This can be through creative streams including reworking, adding components and embellishments, or breaking up the waste into more saleable items. It can also be through functional streams, including adjusting for size or wearability.

 

W

Woven, Weaving
Weaving is a method of construction seen with hard and soft materials. In terms of textiles, it refers to the interlacing of yarns to create a fabric. Depending on the woven construction type, fibre type and yarn type, your fabric will have a diversity of appearances, hand feel and application, yet the essence of the interlacing remains the same. Weaving can be done via hand-weaving or machine-weaving.

Y

Yarn
Continuous strands of fibres grouped or twisted together and used to construct textile fabrics.

This guide is produced in partnership with Stephanie Steele, London-based textile sustainability specialist.

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