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Scientists in Sweden are claiming a notable breakthrough in terms of closing the loop in textiles having successfully recycled worn sheets made of a blend of polyester and cotton to produce two new product streams – cotton pulp, which is suitable for regeneration into cellulosic textile fibres (such as viscose fibres) and polyester monomers which can be re-polymerised into polyester.

The Mistra Future Fashion project – Blend Re:wind – focused on the chemical recycling of poly-cotton fibre blends and aimed to separate and generate a new feedstock for future industrial use, namely polyester monomers and cotton pulp which is suitable for regeneration into cellulosic textile fibres. 

The researchers claim the viscose filaments produced in the research have the same quality as filaments which are made from commercial dissolving pulp, currently used in existing viscose production. They also say the separated polyester residue, polyester monomers, can be re-polymerised into high quality polyester. The monomers are said to be suitable for integration with existing chemicals processes.

Dr Hanna de la Motte, theme leader for theme 4, recycling, within Mistra Future Fashion and research scientist at RISE told Apparel Insider: “Our separation process, Blend Re:wind, is developed having existing industrial processes in mind, and our aim is to integrate as much as possible to minimise both environmental and economic costs, while boosting businesses. Scaling up from lab scale is the biggest challenge at the moment, and it is also costly. The integration possibilities of the Blend Re:wind process would however address these challenges in feasible ways.

“There are many brilliant recycling innovations in progress globally at the moment, highly needed for successful future recycling systems. Different processes will most probably be needed and we hope that Blend Re:wind is one of these on the global market in the future.”

While there are, indeed, a number of projects underway at the moment which claim to be closing the loop in apparel, we believe this is one of the most promising, and the latest in a recent surge in technological breakthroughs from the Nordic states. Most industry insiders recognise that the most realistic textile recycling options will be those that can blend seamlessly into existing industrial processes – providing a new feedstock from recycled sources.

With this in mind, it is welcome news that this particular project has demonstrated strong feasibility with existing industry processes. “A strong benefit with this process is that the separation takes existing industries into consideration, and the aim is integrationwith existing forest and chemical industries, or other recycling options,” added a note from Mistra. “The separation uses chemicals already utilised in the Swedish forest industry, and in the viscose industry, to facilitate possible integrations.”

The separation process is also said to boast strong environmental performance, being water-based and using only common, cheap bulk chemicals in addition to a catalyst.

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