The textile industry remains one of the biggest industries to date. However, it is also guilty of producing the most waste. Not only does the textile industry produce waste during production, but also the consumption of textiles. Most times, textile waste generation is a result of good textile production. The higher the production, the more waste tend to exist. The textile industry took many measures to reduce its negative effect on the environment to deal with this effectively. One of those measures is textile recycling.
Textile recycling remains one of the leading recycling industries in the house. However, only a few people understand the industry and how it works. Textile recyclizing has been around since the 18th century. It began when the Napoleonic War when there was a shortage of virgin wool. As a solution, people started to garnet wool fibers into new yarns. Although the textile industry still used fibers for the past century, the market for recycled textiles continues to grow and evolve significantly. This article will thoroughly look at textile recycling and its evolution over the years. So, without further ado, let’s dive in.
What is Textile Recycling?
To fully understand textile recycling and its evolution in technology, it is essential to know what it means. Textile recycling covers the proof of covering old clothes and many more textiles for material recovery or reuse. This recovery process is the foundation of the textile recycling industry. In the United States, this initiative is represented by SMART. To carry out textile recycling, there’s a need for donation collection. This is the first step of textile recovery and is where most of the issue lies; many people dump their used clothing in landfills instead of donating it for recycling. The next step then becomes the sorting and processing of textiles. Finally, there’s the transportation to end users of the recovered materials, used garments, and rags.
The basis for the growing textile industry is the textile industry itself. It has evolved into a $1 trillion industry that comprises clothing, furniture and mattress materials, cleaning materials, draperies, leisure equipment, and many more.
Textile Recycling – A Global Issue
Textile recycling follows a process that functions as a system with many sides. It takes place through a pipeline of several constituents that turns consumer waste into fiber and extracts new fiber from domestic waste. Specifically, it extracts polyester from PET (polyethylene terephthalate), a chemical substance reclaimed from plastic soda bottles. Although recycling is ecologically correct, it is still not as practiced as it should be. 4-6% of landfills are still filed with recyclable textile products because the discarded textile wastes do not reach the recycling pipeline. This is because consumers still do not understand how the recycling process works.
Western consumption patterns, especially the fast fashion trends, encourage excessiveness. These actions usually lead to a negative impact on global sustainability. With the implementation of textile recycling, global sustainability increased significantly. Two issues that exist regarding textile recycling globally include
- Textile waste exists globally and is disposed of significantly.
- Most used clothing markets exist in developing countries where the annual wages cannot afford a single outfit in the United States.
Most people in developing countries need to receive a surplus of used clothing from industrialized countries. A report shows that over 34,000 tons of used clothing are annually sent to Africa. However, not all countries support the importation of used clothing. Therefore, the black market has experienced significant growth as goods move across borders to satisfy consumer demand.
Three main places where the processing of reclaimed clothing takes place are India, Dewsbury, and Italy. These processing centers usually receive used apparel from different countries and then sort them out based on the fiber and color content. Next, they reduce the garment to its fiber state using technology. Finally, these processing centers reprocess the fibers into new yarns and create the end products.
The Need for Textile Recycling
The importance of textile recycling is continually increasing over the years. There’s an estimate of 100 billion garments produced annually globally. A report showed that the world generated over 17 million tons of textile in 2018. The recycling rate for fabrics from footwear and clothing was 13%, while the recovery for sheets and pillowcases was 15.8% in the same year. Therefore, textile recycling is a significant challenge that needs to be globally addressed as the world strives to achieve a zero-landfill society.
Natural fibers usually take weeks to decompose when it gets to landfills. Therefore, they might release CO2 gas and methane into the air. Additionally, synthetic textiles do not decompose. Consequently, they could release toxic substances into the surrounding soil and the groundwater. On the other hand, there are many benefits to choosing textile recycling, and some of them include:
- A Decline in Landfill Space Requirements: Synthetic fibers do not decompose and pollute the environment. On the other hand, although natural fibers decompose, they usually release greenhouse gasses into the environment beforehand. This pollution contributes to global warming. With textile recycling, there’s more pressure on sustainability.
- It Avoids the Use of Virgin Fiber: With the availability of recycled fiber, there’s no pressure on the use of virgin resources like cotton and wool.
- Development of More Markets: With raw materials gotten from recycled contents available at a lower price, they’re becoming a top choice for many manufacturers. This helps in the creation of new markets for reclaimed fibers.
- It Avoids the Possibility of Pollution: Recycling textile also helps save money on energy and water consumption. Unlike virgin wool, reclaimed fibers don’t need thorough washing with volumes of water. Therefore, the possibility of pollution reduces significantly.
Source of Textile Used in Recycling
There is a range of markets for used textile fibers. Some examples are the vintage market for used clothing exported to developing countries. Additionally, there are also industrial uses for used textile fiber. Textiles come from two sources and include pre-customer and post-customer. The post-customer materials are vehicle upholstery, household items, garments, and similar items.
On the other hand, the pre-customer source of textile is scraps created as a by-product of yarns and the fabric manufacturing process. It also comes from the post-industrial scrap textile of many other industries. Another viable source to note is the donation of old garments supported by non-profit organizations and several corporate programs.
The textile recycling company considers the pre-customer waster easier to recycle because the fibers, finishes, and dyes are in a new-like condition. On the other hand, post-customer waste can be challenging to recycle because its origin remains widely uncertain. Additionally, they come in varying conditions and quality which is difficult to recycle. Therefore, many kinds of research focused on the problems associated with processing used and mixed fibers.
Textile Recycling Methods
Since the introduction of the industrial revolution, there have been different wastes to deal with. While some are non-biodegradable, others are hazardous in many ways. Although, most times, textile production is associated with a form of pollution, below are the top methods of textile recycling.
This is the most familiar recycling method available. In physical recycling, you reprocess manufacturing waste and post-consumer products into new products. This takes place through a reclamation process or blended plastic waste processing. Physical recycling is a common choice because it is simpler, affordable, and more environmentally friendly. However, it isn’t the only method of textile recycling.
This is another form of recycling that’s slowly growing in popularity. It requires the conversion of high molecular weight polymers into low molecular weight substances. Usually, you can use the substances obtained as a reactant to produce other polymers and chemicals. With chemical recycling, the recycling process can become a means of providing solutions to environmental, economic, and social issues.
Chemical recycling is typical for synthetic fibers, especially those made from PET, like polyester. The recycling process is usually tricky and begins with the dissolution of the material. This process helps to remove the catalysts, dyes and other additives added to the materials. There are different chemicals available to remove the dyes from the cellulosic fiber. Additionally, these insoluble additives come out as a fine powder removed through filtration. There are usually two results from this process: a cellulosic pulp or 100% PET resin chips. This means you’ll get virgin PET that you can reuse in the production of new garments.
Types of Textile Recycling Technologies
There are three types of technologies used in the recycling industry today, and we’ll be reviewing them below.
- Thermal Recycling Technology: This type of technology helps recover heat energy that comes from the incineration of fiber waste as electrical energy.
- Material Recycling Technology: This recycling technology helps you recover polymer from fibers. However, transforming PET (polyethylene terephthalate) into fiber is quite economical and is the standard choice for many practical reasons.
- Chemical Recycling Technology: This technology works to retrieve monomers from waste fibers. It achieves this through polymer decomposition. It’s easy to remove impurities from recovered monomers. Therefore, the quality would be pretty similar to virgin monomers.
Although the textile industry has been around for decades, it only began to grow in importance due to the advent of the fast-fashion culture. This fashion industry segment resulted in the overconsumption of textiles and, therefore, an enormous waste generation. Luckily, society is becoming familiar with the dangers of old materials. A new trend of slow fashion also draws attention to the relationship between sustainability and garments. With new recycling technologies popping up, the textile industry will continue to evolve. Additionally, consumers can affect change and significantly reduce waste by choosing brands that demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. We hope this article sheds insight into the evolution of textile recycling.