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"Textiles must be recycled in the best way"

Textile recycling is not available on a large scale today, but it will soon be necessary to collect textile waste, and so requirements will also be set for textile recycling processes. The 2018 research programme will look at how to facilitate textile recycling. Åsa Östlund explains more.

What will you be researching into?

The basic idea is to look at synergies with existing material recycling and what synergies we can find for the best resource efficiencys. In order to do that, the researchers will need to adapt the process industry, such as processes within the forestry industry for processing cellulose material.

“The concept of sustainability is important, and so we are starting with existing recycling of plastic and paper, which in material terms are close to textiles in several ways,” says Åsa Östlund.

The research area will check the chemical and physical composition of used textiles. There may be components in the fabric that disrupt the recycling process. It may be a dye that could be difficult to break down, or a surface treatment that can be classified as hazardous waste. Used cotton has a high level of crystallinity and the chain length of cellulose breaks down in used material. But the focus is currently mainly on fibre-to-fibre recycling, which may not always be the most resource-efficient approach to recycling.

Åsa is considering whether it is possible to use cotton fibres with a high level of crystallinity and create crystalline nanocellulose from it. It is currently mainly made from wood, and that may be a resource-efficient approach for used cotton.  

What are the challenges?

The challenge is largely that textile recycling is not so established today, but there is huge potential for new opportunities within several sectors. In the future, textile recycling will be mandatory, and the major challenge is to get the broad group of stakeholders involved. Åsa is thinking mainly of laundries, which have huge volumes of material that is currently sent for combustion. 

How can the challenges be solved?

“We need a dialogue with experts and to have questions that will facilitate the textile recycling that does not currently exist. Everything is at the research level at the moment, and we are trying to survey what grades of material may come in. We will also examine in what circumstances chemical recycling would be the most suitable option, and ask ourselves what is the most effective recycling system for textiles,” says Åsa.

The goal is for textile waste to become a new raw material within the cellulose and plastics industry, but also to discover new knowledge on what is produced on a fossil basis that could be replaced with textile waste instead. 

Åsa Östlund is responsible for the area "The textile waste materials refinery" in the research program 2018-2020.


Åsa Östlund
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