Friday, 5th february 2021 | rNEWS
Marco Arezio - Consulente materie plastiche - rNEWS: How Fabric Recycling Works and Why It Is Done

The circularity of materials in modern productions must take into account the entry of products at the end of their life. This is normally done with plastic, paper, wood, metals, rubbers, glass and also with fabrics. This sector, as Rick Leblanc tells us, if not supported by recycling, starts processes of accumulation of waste in landfills with a consequent increase in pollution and the exploitation, through virgin fibers, of the planet's natural resources. which we can no longer afford.

Textile recycling is the process by which old clothing and other textiles are recovered for reuse or material recovery.

It is the basis for the textile recycling industry. In the United States, this group is represented by SMART, the Association of Cleaning Materials, Used Apparel and Fiber Industries.

The steps required in the fabric recycling process include donating, collecting, sorting and processing the fabrics and then transporting used clothing, rags or other recovered materials to end users.

The basis for the growing textile recycling industry is, of course, the textile industry itself. The textile industry has evolved into a nearly trillion dollar industry globally, which includes apparel as well as furniture and material for mattresses, bedding, curtains, cleaning materials, leisure equipment and many other items. .

The urgent need to recycle fabrics

The importance of textile recycling is increasingly recognized. It is estimated that around 100 billion garments are produced each year worldwide. According to the US EPA, about 17 million tons of textile municipal solid waste (MSW) were generated in 2018, about 5.8% of total MSW production.

The recycling rate for fabrics derived from clothing and footwear was 13.0%, while the recovery of sheets and pillowcases was 15 , 8% for the same year.

As such, textile recycling is a significant challenge to address as we strive to move closer to a landfill zero society.

Once in landfills, natural fibers can take from a few weeks to a few years to decompose and can release methane and CO2 gas into the atmosphere. Furthermore, synthetic fabrics are designed not to decompose, so in the landfill they can release toxic substances into the groundwater and surrounding soil. ;

The recycling of fabrics offers the following environmental benefits:

  • Decreases the need for landfill space, bearing in mind that synthetic fiber products do not decompose and that natural fibers can release greenhouse gases
  • The use of virgin fibers is reduced
  • Reduced energy and water consumption
  • Pollution prevention
  • Decreased demand for dyes.

Sources of fabrics for recycling

The fabrics for recycling are generated by two primary sources. These sources include:

1. Post-consumer, including clothing, vehicle upholstery, household items and others.

2. Pre-consumer, including waste created as a by-product from the production of yarns and fabrics, as well as post-industrial textile waste from other industries.

The donation of old garments is supported by non-profit organizations and many corporate programs, including those of Nike and Patagonia .

Wearable and reused fabrics

In the European Union, about 50% of the fabrics collected are recycled and about 50% are reused. About 35% of donated clothing is turned into industrial rags.

Most of the reused garments are exported to other countries. Oxam , a British charity, estimates that 70% of clothing donations go to Africa. The issue of sending used clothing to Africa has generated a degree of controversy over the benefits of such initiatives, where they can have a negative impact on local textile industries, indigenous clothing and local waste generation.

The recycling process

For fabrics to be recycled, there are fundamental differences between natural and synthetic fibers. For natural fabrics:

  • The incoming material is sorted by material type and color. The selection of colors produces a fabric that does not need to be dyed again. Color selection means no new dye is needed, saving energy and avoiding pollutants.
  • The fabrics are then transformed into fibers or shredded, sometimes introducing other fibers into the yarn. The materials are shredded or reduced into fibers. Depending on the end use of the yarn, other fibers may be incorporated.
  • The yarn is then cleaned and blended through a carding process
  • Then the yarn is spun again and ready for subsequent use in weaving or knitting.
  • However, some fibers are not spun as they are compressed for stuffing fabrics such as mattresses.

In the case of polyester-based fabrics, the garments are shredded and then granulated to be transformed into polyester chips. These are subsequently blended and used to create new fibers to be used in new polyester fabrics.

In addition to recycling, buy sustainably

As the company becomes more familiar with the risks associated with sending old fabrics to landfill and with the development of new recycling technologies , it can be expected that the textile recycling industry will continue to grow.

The fast fashion industry generates considerable pollution and a considerable negative impact on climate change. Consumers can help influence change by choosing clothing brands that last longer and demonstrate a commitment to reducing their impact on climate change.

Automatic translation. We apologize for any inaccuracies. Original article in Italian.

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