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New Swedish method a breakthrough in textile recycling

The Blend Re:wind separation process makes it possible to recycle mixed-textile clothing, for example cotton-polyester blends. The reclaimed fibres can then be used as new raw materials in existing textile manufacturing processes.

Many textiles are blends of materials; for example, it is quite common for garments to include both cotton and polyester. These blended materials are difficult to recycle as the mixed textiles must be separated mechanically, i.e. cut up and torn into smaller parts. One of the disadvantages of mechanical recycling is that the quality of the fabric deteriorates.

The new process is unique in the world, separating fabrics chemically instead of mechanically. The fabrics are broken down into three pure products; cotton and the two building blocks of polyester, one a solid the other in liquid form.

“The cotton can then be reused in new, high-quality viscose filament, while the polyester can be rebuilt into new fibres. A major investment is required in order to set up a new recycling industry, hence the importance of ensuring that the process itself is environmentally friendly, cost-effective and, ideally, easy to integrate into existing industries. Blend Re:wind has been developed with exactly that in mind; that recycling can be easily connected to existing forestry, polyester and viscose industries to provide new raw materials. The recycled cotton can, for example, be used in new viscose garments,” says Sigrid Barnekow, programme director at Mistra Future Fashion.

Clothing is a major polluter

Both cotton and polyester are a problem for the environment. Cotton manufacturing demands enormous amounts of water and pesticides; for example, it takes approximately 2,700 litres of water to manufacture a cotton sweater. Polyester is less demanding in terms of water but is manufactured from fossil-based materials using a process that consumes large amounts of energy. As both cotton and polyester place a large burden on the environment, it is important to recycle used textiles to the greatest possible extent.

However, many garments are not recycled and end up being incinerated as household waste. In Sweden, we each currently throw away an average of 8 kg of clothing every year. On a global scale, the recycling of textiles is thought to be negligible. The majority of worn clothing is either incinerated or ends up in landfills. In cases where recycling does occur, it is generally in the form of down-cycling, for example a pair of jeans used as upholstery in a car interior.

Textile waste is an unutilised resource for the fashion industry, which is in great need of more sustainable fabric alternatives.

“With this project, we really want to make the most of clothing and textiles as a resource instead of waste; we want to help the textile and fashion industries to complete the circle and become sustainable,” explains Sigrid Barnekow.


Facts

The new recycling process is called Blend Re:wind and has been developed by researchers at RISE and Chalmers, together with industry partner Södra within the programme Mistra Future Fashion. As well as acting as project manager, Hanna de la Motte from RISE has also contributed to the creation of the process. The recycling process has yet to be commercialised, although the hope is that it will be on the market within ten years.

You can learn more at: http://mistrafuturefashion.com/rewind-recycles-cotton-polyester/