Recycling fast fashion with new techniques

Sulzer has partnered with clothing giant H&M and Worn Again in developing new technology for textile recycling.

As more and more fabrics end up in landfills, textile waste is quickly becoming one of society’s pressing environmental issues. Because of the complexity of garment production, chemical recycling techniques have only been applied to a minor share of end-of-use textiles and clothing so far.

As the technology partner for UK-based Worn Again Technologies, a company majority-owned by Sulzer and H&M, Sulzer brings in its
expertise with a new technology to recycle textiles, thus enabling circularity. The teams will now engineer a demonstration plant and further scale-up this novel closedloop recycling process with a planned output of 1’000 tons per year.

This closed-loop textile recycling process converts textiles at their end of use back into virgin-like raw materials, preventing millions of tons of garments from ending up in landfills or incinerators. Today, more than 60 million tons of natural and synthetic textile fibers for clothing are produced per year, of which 73% is incinerated or landfilled according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Following on the successful launch of Worn Again’s research and development pilot plant, the teams will be building a larger demonstration facility converting polyester and cotton garments into polyester pellets and cellulosic pulp that can further be re-spun into new fibers.
The vast majority of garments currently produced are made out of mixed cotton and polyester fibers, where sustainable production has been increasingly challenged.

Cultivation of cotton is linked to the use of huge amounts of water necessary for its growth and polyesters are associated with non-recyclable waste. Current technologies to recycle textile fibers back into virgin-quality fibers are almost non-existent. It is estimated that only 1% of clothing is recycled into new garments because these are rather complex systems containing various types of fibers, dyes, fillers and additives, making them difficult to recycle.

Image credit: H&M

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