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Industry News: Recycling polycotton fibre blends

Circular Future

Mistra Future Fashion successfully recycles polyester/cotton fibre blends for the first time

Jackets from old PET bottles, jeans from denim scraps and bags from pineapple waste – recycling is one of the future trends of the textile and fashion industry. But as innovative as the methods are, they are usually a long way from realising the closed-loop approaches that a circular economy calls for. Can a circular fashion industry really exist? The biggest hurdle for a breakthrough on the industrial scale is textile-to-textile recycling. Why? Most garments are made from mixed fibres, such as cotton-polyester. Breaking down the fabric into its base materials, i.e. separating the different fibres, is mechanically virtually impossible. This means that high value textile products that enter into a recycling process are frequently used as lower value, downcycled insulation materials. Until now, that is. Last November after six years of research the Swedish research consortium Mistra Future Fashion announced the technology “Blend Re:wind” which, in their own words, is a “milestone towards the future of global recycling systems”: for the first time, new viscose filaments can be produced from fibre blends of cotton and polyester.

Simply put, the textile fibres are separated using a water-based chemical process. Three new materials are obtained: cotton is transformed into a new, high quality viscose filament and polyester into two new monomers that can be re-polymerized into high quality polyester. The researchers thus fully recycle polycotton fibre blends – with a focus on good feasibility with existing industrial processes.

The project “Blend Re:wind” was launched in 2011 and received 600,000 euros in funding from the Mistra research foundation and the Rise Circle Economy Centre of Excellence and in-kind contributions from involved partners. Mistra Future Fashion is a multidisciplinary research programme that targets a systemic change in the fashion industry, via closed-loops and changed mindsets. During the recent Berlin Fashion Week Dr. Gustav Sandin Albertsson presented the innovative approaches of Mistra Future Fashion at the FashionSustain conference with his keynote “A New Responsible Fashion System – What does a new responsible fashion system look like? What interventions are needed to enable such a system?”

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