Sorting clothing with FIBERSORT

Sorting clothing with FIBERSORT
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Globally, the textile industry is responsible for an immense water usage: sometines 20.000 litres of water is needed to produce 1 kilo of cotton. FIBERSORT wants to reduce the textile industry’s production by enabling high-quality recycling of textile fibres.

Closing the loop
In the Netherlands, jeans producer Mud Jeans has set up a trade-in service to recycle discarded jeans, Dutch aWEARness and Waste2wear lease company wear to keep materials in the loop, but discarded wear from the regular market is hardly ever processed that thoroughly. That’s why Wieland Textiles and Circle Economy among others have started a pilot around a new technology that helps to sort the multitude of textile fibres from old clothing for reuse.

Sorting cast-aways
The technology of FIBERSORT should make recycling commercially attractive by rapidly establishing the fibre content of discarded clothing. The smart sorting machines which can process large volumes of textile per year, should help to sort low-quality textile, so it can be processed into high-quality yarn and textile products. Once sorted carefully in different materials, used textile is suitable for so much more than kitchen towels and fillers. It should even be possible to have this ‘recycled textile’ compete with ‘fresh’ textile.  

Smart cooperation
 “One of the most important lessons of this project,” says Hélène Smits of Circle Economy, “is that it’s possible to put a transition in motion if you work with the right partners – even in an intensely polluted industry.” The consortium of organisations involved with FIBERSORT brings together expertise from several areas. Second-hand textile processor Wieland Textiles is in the lead, but the involvement of ReShare of the Salvation Army is just as important. This organisation collects about 23 million kilos of clothing annually. “For FIBERSORT it is essential that old clothing is handed in, so the low-quality (non-rewearable) textiles do not end up in the trash, but get a chance for a new life via the FIBERSORT,” Smits explains.

Data collection
Finally, Valvan Baling Systems and Metrohm supply technical knowledge for the FIBERSORT-machines and Worn Again develops the chemical knowledge necessary for recycling. At this moment the project is still in a pilot phase, but the organisations involved hope to collect lots of data quickly, including those about the quality of the textiles, the percentage recovered materials, potential clients and techniques for fine-tuning the equipment.

Great ambitions
While the technology for the FIBERSORT-machine is being tested, Circle Economy involves new organisations in the project. “We are looking for more innovative stakeholders who can process the sorted textile materials into high-quality new fibres and yarns for textiles”, says Smits. Stakeholders such as project partner Worn Again, but also Recover with the Upcycled Textile System. “Of course clothing brands and designers will have to start using the recycled textiles, especially if we are able in five years’ time, to sort and recycle about 50 million kilos of low-quality textile per year in Europe. It has to become a real transition of the entire chain.”

More information on the project

This item is a translation of the Dutch article Kleren sorteren met de FIBERSORT published on Futureproof.

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