Thursday, December 26, 2013

Textile Recycling: An Important Concept

The recycling of textiles means the reusing or reprocessing of used apparel, clothing scraps and fibers that are left over in the manufacturing process. Apart from discarded clothing and textiles, other sources for recycling of textiles include- carpets, upholstery, sheets towels, footwear, and other soft goods.

Some data:

As per US EPA, about 5% of all landfill space is occupied by textile wastes.  The EPA also says that the textile recycling industry recycles nearly 3.8 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste (PCTW) annually, which is just 15% of the total PCTW. 85% of PCTW goes to the landfills. 

52% of the clothing purchased annually in the UK, or 1,081,000 tons of clothing, is thrown away in landfills. Likewise, in many countries, textile recycling has a great scope of improvement.

Why recycle?
Textile recycling is a need for a better future; the concept has both ecological and economic advantages. Recycling textiles reduces the use of many polluting and energy-using processes that go into the making of textile manufacturing using fresh raw materials.

  • Usage of chemicals like dyes and fixing agents is greatly reduced
  •  Landfill space requirement is reduced. Synthetic fibers in landfills do not decompose, woolen garments produce methane gas on decomposition. Thus, landfills can create ecological problems as well.
  • Recycled textiles mean less buying of fresh material
  • Fibers, when recycled lead to cost savings involved in importing from other countries. This saves time, money and energy resources.
  • The manufacturing of new products is easier as recycled material does not need dyeing or scouring.
  • Wastage of water is reduced as extensive washing is not required.
  • The stress for producing fresh textile resources is also reduced to an extent.

Major textile sources for recycling: There are two major types of resources- post-consumer and pre-consumer. Post-consumer resources include clothing, upholstery, and household goods. Pre-consumer resources include by-products or scraps left over during the textile manufacturing process and scrap textiles left over from other industries.

  • Used clothing
  • Used footwear
  • Leather goods
  • Cotton, wool, silk, polyester, nylon fiber recycling
  • Polyurethane foam
  • Carpets, rugs and wipers
  • Used bags

Textile recycling process:

Textiles are generally either natural or may contain synthetic fibers. The textile recycling method is broadly defined by its durability and composition.

Firstly, all collected textile material is sorted and classified by skilled and experienced labors who have the expertise to differentiate between various types of fibers –synthetics, natural and blended fibers. After this initial sorting, all items are sent to various destinations.

At fiber reclamation mills, all material is graded as per type and color. Textiles are shredded into smaller fibers to be blended with other selected fibers. Next, carding of the blended mixture is done to clean the fibers and make them ready for spinning. Finally, weaving or knitting is done. For the manufacturing of mattresses, the fibers may also be compressed. To send to the flocking industry, fibers may be shredded to make fillers for use in cars as roofing felts, car insulation fillers, furniture padding and panel linings.

In the case of specialized synthetic materials, firstly, fasteners such as zippers and buttons are removed, followed by shredding the textile material into bits. The shredded stuff is granulated and small pellets are formed. The pellets are polymerized into polyester chips. The chips are melted and spun to filament fibers to produce new polyester fabrics.

With better awareness and facilities in textile recycling, the textile industry can benefit from the concept to a large extent, saving time, energy and the environment in the long run.


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