Fiber forward traceability allows value chains to trace cotton fibers from the source moving forward across the complete value chain.
Traceability on fiber level is essential to achieve transparency in a regenerative textile value chain. It brings plenty of opportunities but comes with its challenges and requirements too. This study identifies the most optimal track and trace technology for the Circular Cotton Cascade.
Traceability is a challenge for every textile supply chain
Track and trace technologies generally take a long-term implementation process. Trust, objectivity, impartiality collaboration, and different levels of already existing information-management-systems are perceived as challenging roadblocks for successful transparency throughout the value chain. Fortunately, various track and trace technology providers constantly enhance their technologies and offer different kind of solutions to these challenges.
Requirements track and trace technology
The cotton cascade consortium indicated external and internal requirements for track and trace technologies:
- Internal requirements include: ease of use, versatility, stability, scalability, tamper proof data, and financial attractiveness.
- External requirements include: global traceability on fiber level, resistance of multiple recycling processes, and biocompatibility.
Adaptive behavior is necessary for the Circular Cotton Cascade to work in a transparent manner. Close collaboration, security, trust in the track and trace technology and in each other are importsant factors. On top of that, system integration, meaning the extraction of data from local systems to an overarching system, is crucial.
The optimal traceability solution
The best traceability solution for the Circular Cotton Cascade up to now, appears to be a physical tracer combined with a digital backbone system. This physical tracer of fluorescents particles is able to identify the original sourced cotton. The tracer is easy to use, biocompatible, resist mechanical recycling and can be traced on site with a handscanner.
Alternatively, physical tracers based on artificial DNA would be suitable. A drawback of DNA tracers is that the fiber with DNA particles needs to be tested in a specialized lab. Verifying the fiber can therefore not be done onsite.
Blockchain technology poses the greatest potential for the digital backbone system. Blockchain is like a digital ledger, or a record book, that keeps track of transactions between people or organizations. Imagine a notebook where every time a transaction occurs, it gets written down in the notebook and everyone can see it.
However, unlike a physical notebook, a blockchain is decentralized, which means that it’s not owned by any one person or organization. Instead, it’s stored across a network of computers, making it much more secure and reliable.
Overall, blockchain is a way to create a secure and transparent way to conduct transactions without the need for a middleman or trusted third party. Although most blockchain platforms are still in start-up phases, pilots have proven that blockchain combined with a physical tracer can be successful in tracing cotton.
After implementation of a track and trace technology, certain challenges might arise, such as
- Fiber and tracer particles will get lost when material is spun multiple times. It is therefore important to know at which moment in time new tracer particles need to be added to ensure the cascade products do not get lost.
- The guarantee of a tamper proof data flow. Value chain partners should consider authorization rights and data management.
Written by: Myrthe Hubers, Student – Avans University of Applied Sciences, Netherlands