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Technologies Tackling Textile Waste

Marco Verch on Flickr

It is estimated that 92 million tonnes of textile waste is produced worldwide every year, the equivalent of a rubbish truck full of clothes sent to landfill every second. While reducing the amount of clothing we buy is arguably the best way to combat this problem, scientists across the world are also working on ways to deal with textile waste. 

Converting Clothes into Paint Pigment

Scientists at Deakin University in Geelong, Australia, have developed a method for converting old clothing into paint pigment. 

Using existing mill machinery from agriculture and mining, the waste textiles are ground into very fine particles, like fluff. This material is then ground into a liquid, using water, and dried into a pigment paste, clay, or powder. This pigment can then be used to re-dye new textiles. 

Chemical Recycling Pulp Mill

On the other side of the world, in the city of Sundsvall, Sweden, sits the world’s first commercial-scale textile-to-textile chemical recycling pulp mill.

The recycling technology at the mill involves shredding the textiles and removing buttons, zips, and coloring.  The fabrics undergo both mechanical and chemical processing to separate the tightly tangled cotton fibers, leaving pure cellulose that can be dried into pulp sheets. These sheets can then be dissolved and spun into new viscose fabric by viscose manufacturers. 

Plastic-Eating Enzyme

In the United Kingdom, researchers from the University of Portsmouth are working on a plastic-eating enzyme to tackle polyester clothing waste.

The researchers had previously developed enzyme technology that breaks down single-use plastics into their chemical building blocks, allowing them to be recycled. The researchers plan to test their engineered enzymes to select those best suited to polyester textile deconstruction and evaluate whether they can scale up the technology.

The scientists hope to create a system where plastic can be recycled infinitely, like glass and aluminum cans.

Learn More

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Australia’s fashion waste is a growing problem, but these scientists say they have an answer


Can clothes ever be fully recycled?


‘Plastic-eating’ enzymes to be deployed to combat waste polyester clothing