Recycling post-consumer textiles

download (5)Although consumers discard a large amount of textiles every year, only a small proportion of these textiles are recycled. This results in a useful source of raw materials not being utilised as the textiles are either burnt or put in landfills. However, a European project called IDENTITEX designed innovative technologies that help recycle post-consumer textiles in a cost-effective and efficient manner.

About 5.8 million tonnes of post-consumer textiles are discarded every year in the EU, while only 1.5 million tonnes are currently recycled by charity and other industries. Although the raw material from textiles can be converted to wiping rags and fibre production and application in the paper industry, the remaining 4.3 million tonnes are wasted. Therefore, the IDENTITEX project aims to increase the recycling of post-consumer textiles by 10%.In fact, the IDENTITEX project developed innovative technologies that prepare, identify, and sort post-consumer textiles for recycling. The preparation of the textiles included an analysis of technological influence parameters and the state of the art. IDENTITEX also identified adjustment parameters, configuration and dimensioning of each component as well as the entire module.

Furthermore, textile materials and colours were identified using NIR (Near Infra Red)/VIS spectroscopy. IDENTITEX designed an automated process that identifies online textile material types and colours for recycling. Textile identification is important for recycling, as post-consumer textiles must be categorised into pure materials and colours for reuse in an economic and environmentally suitable way. This system’s advantage is that it substitutes manual labour sorting, which is inaccurate, expensive and time consuming.

Other innovations of the IDENTITEX textile identification system include online identification of over 10 textile pieces per second; adaptability to real textile streams, such as a conveyor belt; and a 90% precision. Further applications of the system are in quality control by measuring the characteristics of material, where inspecting raw textiles or end products, reduces production costs.

Moreover, IDENTITEX developed an automatic module that sorts textiles after they have been identified. With this module, all pieces of the same type are placed together with 95% accuracy. Of course, the technology is flexible and allows sorting based on different specifications.

In addition, IDENTITEX designed an integrated prototype that puts together the technologies of textile preparation, identification, and sorting. Textile pieces are placed on a transport belt and the prototype then separates the pieces, identifies each piece, and sorts the textile pieces into appropriate categories. The IDENTITEX prototype functions at speeds of up to 4.4 m/s and has been extensively tested.

In essence, the IDENTITEX technologies could effectively increase post-consumer textile recycling and lead to better use of raw materials.