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Mechanical Textile Recycling: A Path Towards Environmental Responsibility

In today's world, the textile industry grapples with the challenge of sustainability. As a responsible textile collector and sorter, we recognise the crucial role recycling plays in mitigating environmental impact. In this pursuit, we advocate for mechanical textile recycling, an environmentally responsible approach that offers numerous advantages over chemical recycling methods.

At our ISO 14001 certified Factory in Malaysia, we diligently sort textiles and collaborate with recycling partners to employ mechanical recycling techniques. Unlike chemical recycling, which involves breaking down textiles using chemicals to obtain raw materials, mechanical recycling focuses on reclaiming fibres without altering their chemical composition. This process stands out for its environmental and social benefits.

Mechanical Recycling: Lesser Environmental Footprint

Mechanical recycling operates on the principle of reducing, reusing, and reclaiming materials without introducing harmful chemicals as a means to separate the different fibres in a material. This approach significantly reduces water and energy consumption, minimising the environmental impact associated with textile recycling. It can also offer a lesser or chemical-free opportunity to recycle textiles.

The process of mechanical recycling involves sorting textiles by type, colour and condition. Subsequently, these textiles are shredded and processed in a way that the longer staple fibres are separated from the shorter ones, These longer fibres are suitable for spinning into new yarn while the shorter ones will be used for non-woven applications. Where possible, yarns will only be dyed where needed for aesthetics, reducing the use of new chemicals.

The composition of the yarn depends on the input material: they can be mixed compositions or single fibres (such as cotton), depending on the demand and available used textile feedstock. Single fibre type recycled yarns are easier to guarantee and achieve when the material feedstock is sourced from factories directly, where the composition of the fibre is known and already sorted.

By preserving the original properties of the material, mechanical recycling conserves resources and decreases greenhouse gas emissions, making it a more eco-friendly option compared to chemical methods.

Chemical Recycling: Diverse Methods and Innovations

Chemical recycling techniques for textiles vary, including methods like depolymerisation, nsolvolysis, and enzymatic processes. Companies like Worn Again Technologies and Evrnu have pioneered innovative chemical recycling methods aimed at breaking down fabrics into their molecular components to produce new materials. BlockTexx is Australia's only chemical recycler, collecting pre-sorted sheets (consistent material composition).

However, while chemical recycling presents advancements in textile waste management, it often requires high energy consumption and involves complex chemical processes that may pose environmental risks if not managed properly.

Moreover, chemical recycling requires specific fibre feedstock to work with the various technologies. Identifying textile materials presents a significant challenge during the textile recycling process due to the intricate structures of fabrics and textiles. Among the most prevalent multi-component garments in the market are cellulose polyester mixtures, sought after for their ability to tailor material attributes like moisture absorption, wrinkle resistance, and wearing comfort. While several promising methods have emerged to analyze the complex composition of various textiles such as near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy combined with chemometrics for textile analysis (not a new finding, a study on its efficacy was conducted over 20 years ago). By utilising genetic algorithms the technology can determine the cotton component within mixed cotton and polyester materials. Additionally, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) techniques have been employed to forecast the ratio of cellulose and polyester in textile blends. To date these systems haven't been developed to deal with volumes as would be necessary to handle our textile waste, and the characteristics of the sample surface, encompassing particle size, brightness, colour, moisture content, and coating chemicals, significantly impact the NIR signals.

Regional Viability

Mechanical recycling thrives in countries like India due to their long-standing manufacturing prowess, where there's a ready supply of textile waste from factories ,(off-cuts and pre-consumer waste, of which the fibre compositions are known and more easily sorted at source) and a growing demand for recycled materials in production. In contrast, for Western countries and Australia, the logistics and economics are less feasible for establishing mechanical recycling facilities. The infrastructure costs are high, and operations expensive due to higher wages, with little use for the recycled material in the country. Australia simply won't become a textile recycling hub.

We import billions of units of fashion every year, almost all of it predominantly made from virgin materials. By collaborating with overseas recycling we can build a steady demand for recycled content in Australia and support a more responsible textile economy.

Advocating for Sustainable Textile Recycling

Mechanical recycling emerges as a sustainable solution in the textile recycling landscape. Its reduced environmental impact, preservation of material properties, and compatibility with manufacturing landscapes in certain regions make it an ideal choice for responsible textile waste management.

As a responsible player in the textile industry, we at Upcycle4Better continue our journey towards sustainability by championing responsible recycling practices. Join us in our commitment to reduce textile waste and create a global and inclusive textile industry.

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