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LONDON – The UK Fashion and Textile Association has announced a £4m project to develop and pilot an automated sorting and pre-processing demonstrator for waste textiles. The Autosort for Circular Textiles Demonstrator (ACT UK) is a two-year project aimed at supporting a transition from the manual sorting of clothes and textiles that are not suitable for resale to automated sorting and pre-processing. Sorted clothing can then in theory be used as feedstock for existing and emerging recycling processes.

ACT UK brings together a consortium of recycling technologies, textile collectors/sorters, academia, manufacturers, industry associations, technologists and brands/retailers, supported with funding from Innovate UK.

With close involvement of Circle-8 Textile Ecosystems, the project partners are IBM, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Pangaia, New Look, Reskinned, Salvation Army, Oxfam, Textile Recycling International, Shred Station, Worn Again Technologies, English Fine Cottons, Alex Begg, Camira, Manufacturing Technology Centre, University of Leeds, University of Huddersfield, Textile Recycling Association and WRAP. Other partners are expected to join the consortium.

The project was announced as part of the Creative Industries Council Sector Vision by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, The Rt Hon Lucy Frazer MP.

Today over 1 million tonnes of used textiles are generated annually in the UK. Estimates suggest a third of these are non-rewearable textiles which are currently being lost to landfill/incineration or are being exported, to be sorted in lower cost labour regions.

Manual sorting of used textiles has its limitations. It is not possible to sort garments by fibre composition ‘by eye’ and pre-processing (button, zip and trim removal) and sizing steps required by textile recyclers haven’t been optimised and customised to meet their individual specifications. No scaled process currently exists which brings all of this into one industrial process or facility.

ACT UK will build on sorting approaches that are currently being trialled in countries such as the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.

The project will bring together and advance key technology components including state of the art optical scanning, robotics, AI, pre-processing (buttons, zips, trim removal) and size reduction equipment – all under one roof.

Adam Mansell, CEO of UKFT, said: “What happens to our textiles when we no longer need them is a growing problem that we cannot ignore. With this ground-breaking project, we’re aiming to create a model to sort and prepare NRT for recycling in a way that’s never been done before, at scale. A national system of recycling plants could save 100,000s of tonnes of material from entering landfill. In turn, the system could generate huge volumes of material for use across the UK textile manufacturing sector.”

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