World Recycling Day was celebrated on 17 May to raise awareness of the importance of correct waste management in order to protect the environment.
One of the main environmental impacts affecting the Earth is the enormous volume of waste produced by the textile sector, coupled with its low recycling rate. More than 85% of products discarded by consumers ends up in landfills or is incinerated, and barely 13% is recycled in some way after use. Most is transformed into other lower value items such as rags, insulation or filler material and less than 1% is recycled into new fibre.
Textile waste recycling at AITEX
Recycling in the textile sector is via a range of approaches (mechanical and chemical) using different technologies and sources (bottles, manufacturing waste, net waste, carpets, fabrics, etc.).
One of the most highly-developed recycling processes due to its low cost and simplicity, is the mechanical recycling of synthetic fibres (especially polyester, which is the most widely used), involving melting and re-extruding the polyester. However, a lot of recycled fibre does not come from textile waste but from other sources such as used plastics.
AITEX’s work in this area is through the MELTEX 2021 project, whose main objective is to validate the applicability of recycled materials from thermoplastic textiles in new textile raw materials and products from related industries, fostering intersectoral cooperation and creating business opportunities in textile companies that generate thermoplastic waste, either in their own production process or in other industrial areas related to textiles, although outside their daily activity.
Chemical recycling is an alternative approach due to the limitations of mechanical recycling. In this case, the waste is transformed in a chemical reactor to return it to its original state, recovering the quality of the original material. These closed-loop fibre-to-fibre processes are still under development and have not yet reached the commercial stage or large-scale market penetration.
AITEX is responding to the challenge through the CHEMUP project, which aims to create yarn from biopolymers, such as PHB, PBS and PLA, and from PET textile waste which has been chemically recycled through glycolysis. This produces textile fibre that can be transformed into high value-added products at the end of its useful life.
Ecodesign at AITEX
The sector faces significant challenges and barriers to ensure the successful recycling of textile waste. One of the most relevant is the cost effective and environmentally sustainable revaluation of fibre blends. Other fundamental aspects are the separation and sorting processes, carried out manually, raising recycling costs and creating a recycling bottleneck.
Some keys to enabling textile repair, reuse and recycling would be the design of mono-material products or, where appropriate, products that can be disassembled and separated into components for recycling. This approach of incorporating environmental criteria from the initial design of the product is known as Ecodesign.
AITEX is working on this through the GREEN THINKING project to demonstrate how applying the principles of eco-design significantly reduces environmental impact in different sectors of the textile industry in the Valencian Community.