The production of shoes and clothing puts a great strain on the environment. The clothing industry requires ever greater amounts of energy, water and crude oil to produce textile fibres. Over 2,700 litres of water oil are needed to produce one T-shirt alone.
Closed textile cycles are required in order to conserve precious resources and the environment. TEXAID makes an important contribution towards this process by collecting used textiles professionally, sorting them effectively and returning them to the cycle of usability. The commercial production of textiles from recycled used clothes is in the development phase at present.
Used textiles as a raw material
We need research into putting used textiles to more efficient use, while conserving natural resources and the environment in the long term. TEXAID is involved in various research projects for that very purpose. Technology to identify material composition and fibre separation is being developed with the aim of achieving a high-quality basic product that stays in the textile cycle for longer.
Our aim is to further increase our high secondhand value and make sure to keep used clothes, shoes and home textiles in a closed loop.
SUPPORT FOR RESEARCH PROJECTS
TEXAID, in partnership with Coop and Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, have launched the “Texcycle” research project. The goal of the project is to create a new upcycling raw material that can be used in a number of different fields. With the “Texcycle” project, TEXAID hopes to help “close the loop” on textile recycling.
Every year, TEXAID collects around 36,000 tonnes of used clothes in Switzerland. The company then ensures these garments are recycled in an environmentally beneficial manner. Approximately 65% of the collected textiles land in the second-hand clothes market. The rest are clothes which are no longer fit to be worn. These garments are downcycled into rags, insulation or shoddy. “Texcycle” seeks to highlight the qualities of these materials so they can be put to better use, such as for the fabrication of high-quality products. By doing so, “used textile” raw materials will be more sustainable than ever.
Taking the “close the loop” approach
The “Texcycle” project, a joint endeavour by TEXAID, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Coop, will strive to develop an innovative raw material to use in high-quality recycling. The first step will involve analysing the processes that are currently being used to prepare used garments for recycling, and how these processes can be optimised for other applications. The project is centred around the “close the loop” approach, tackling the question of how textile life cycles can be closed in a sustainable and integral manner. The raw material derived from those garments which are no longer fit to be worn will be recycled for other uses.
Teaming up with science and commerce
Beginning in January 2018, the trio of partners began its 18 months of intensive project implementation work. TEXAID has started a collaboration with Coop and Lucerne University of Applied Arts and Sciences. Coop’s objective is to evaluate the possibilities of obtaining high-grade and sustainable recycling raw materials from used textiles, and to test the use of such materials in new products. Coop hopes to use the project to contribute to the “close the loop” dialogue currently taking place in the textile field. At Lucerne University of Applied Sciences, the project will be carried out in close collaboration with the Department of Design & Art and the Department of Technology & Architecture. A design-driven research strategy will allow for the highly complex sustainability issues of textile life cycles to be addressed from a perspective that is based entirely on design. What kind of textiles remain after the second-hand clothes sorting processes of today, and how can these materials be processed in an innovative way? What might a new line of products made with materials derived from used garments look like? To support theoretical questions such as these, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences will create various prototypes for newly defined application areas to test their concepts and materials in practice.
The project is funded by the Swiss Innovation Agency (Inno Suisse).
Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts
Since March 2017, TEXAID has been involved in the Swedish research programme Mistra Future Fashion. TEXAID wants to contribute its expertise in the environmentally friendly collection, sorting and use of textiles and assist in the further development of textile recycling methods.
Mistra Future Fashion was founded in 2011 by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research and is a cross-disciplinary research programme that envisages achieving a closed loop in the fashion and textile industry, while also seeking to promote sustainable consumption. The programme is divided into four areas: Design, supply chain, users and Recycling. Over 50 research and industry partners, including TEXAID, are now participating in the research programme.
Mistra Future Fashion
The Re:Mix project belongs to the fourth research area of Mistra Future Fashion – recycling. The objective of this project is to separate nylon and elastane fibers from mixed materials so that they can be recycled.
Most garments are made of a mixture of different materials. The different fiber types must be separated from one another if they are to be recycled to a high-quality standard. Re:Mix focuses on technical methods for separating nylon and elastane from other fibers. There are two different ways of doing this: a mechanical melting method and an enzymatic method. Both methods are currently being optimised and analysed, and are undergoing tests to determine whether they would also be suitable for applying to large quantities.
Mistra Future Fashion / Re:Mix project
TEXAID has become a sponsoring member of the European Clothing Action Plan (ECAP). The goal of the EU-funded project is to reduce and recycle the large quantities of garment waste in Europe. To achieve this goal, a pan-European framework has been developed to establish measures which will limit the amount of low-grade textiles that are incinerated.
European Clothing Action Plan (ECAP)
TEXAID supports the ‘Feeding Into Textile Sorting for recycling’ project, or FITS for short, run by the organisation Swedish Innovation Platform for Textile Sorting (SIPTex). The objective of this project is to create an automated sorting process that uses fibre recognition to determine recyclability.
Manual sorting processes at TEXAID
The TEXAID sorting plant in Schattdorf has one of Europe’s most modern voice-controlled sorting systems. Nevertheless, significant parts of the sorting process, whether of pieces suitable as second-hand use or items that are no longer wearable (recycling grade), fall to humans. Trained employees inspect each garment by hand and classify it based on around 60 criteria. Quality, fashion and seasonal aspects play a particularly important role in determining whether clothing is suitable for re-use. Material composition is key when it comes to recycling-grade items. This also forms the focus of the SIPTex project.
Automatic sorting using detection technology (VIS & NIR)
In its project SIPTex is testing automated sorting using two different forms of detection technology. The primary aim is to automatically identify the material properties of items for recycling with VIS and NIR spectroscopy.
SPITex is testing and continuously developing these two fibre detection technologies in Sweden over the course of 12 months.
IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute
TEXAID is participating in the working group for the ‘Fibersort’ project As such, TEXAID takes part in discussions relating to the project and, on request, provides data from its work for analysis.
Fibersort is technology that automatically sorts large quantities of used textiles based on their fibre composition. Efficient sorting of items for recycling based on their composition provides the basis for high-quality recycling and thus for a closed textile cycle.
The Gemeinschaft für textile Zukunft (GftZ) has been pursuing the objectives of sustainable use of textiles and the associated high-quality collection, sorting and recycling of used textiles since it was founded in 2014. The main aim of this interest group is to develop and establish guidelines for the sustainable handling and high-quality use of used textiles. TEXAID has been a member of the Gemeinschaft für textile Zukunft since 2015. Two other interesting projects have received support in this context.
Gemeinschaft für textile Zukunft
Project: Dissolving on Demand
Many industrially produced textile goods consist of dissimilar materials that are attached firmly together. This is the case with many textile laminates. At present, however, only a few of these laminates can be recycled. This is because the composites either cannot be separated using technology or because separation is not cost-effective, with the result that the laminates cannot be returned to the recycling process as unmixed materials. At least new technology has now enabled a greater quantity of mixed waste to be made accessible to the recycling economy.
Innovative microcapsule system
The aim of the ‘Dissolving on Demand’ project is to develop a thread that can be dissolved when required. The separation of the composites is based on an innovative microcapsule system into which the thread is integrated. At the end of the life cycle, the polar capsules are activated by targeted microwave irradiation, which causes them to release a solvent that weakens the composite. While the garment is still in use, the functional properties of the textile, such as chemical and thermal resistance, should remain unaffected by the microcapsules.
Furthermore, the research project evaluates specific concepts for upscaling and integrating the technology into the real recycling loop.
Project: Markers for better Sorting
The aim of this project is to develop an industry-oriented concept for coding textiles.
Markers on the thread are coded with information about which components can be recycled and which cannot. This will improve identification, traceability and the opportunity to recycle textile products. At the same time, a recommendation is being drafted on the implementation of coding in the textile sector.
TEXAID is a member of the World Apparel and Footwear Lifecycle Assessment Database (WALDB) for clothing and shoes. This aims to acquire data to support sustainable processes and structures in the fashion industry.
WALDB is a global initiative founded by Quantis, a leading provider of sustainability and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) expertise. WALDB partners are leading companies in the textile industry. They work together to collect comprehensive datasets based on their primary data and on existing data from scientific studies.
Identification of environmental hotspots
The datasets are continuously expanded according to the needs of the partners, and are published annually. They consist of figures and information about the supply chains for the materials wool, cotton and leather, or for apparel such as shirts, pullovers, trousers and shoes, for example. The initiative enables apparel and footwear companies to identify environmental hotspots along their value chain. It also aims to help quantify the benefits of improvement and reduction measures, and to benchmark individual footprints compared with the industry average.