SECTOR WATCH 

Innovation and Resources on Urban Waste

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Analysis

Don’t lose the thread – new technologies to make textiles circular

17 July 2019

Fast fashion is in the way of the transition to a circular economy – in a recent report the British organization WRAP estimated that around £140-million (€ 163 million) worth of clothing is sent to landfill every year in the UK alone. causing CO2 emissions, resource depletion, and pollution, in the production process as well as in the disposal stage.

In a past edition of Sector Watch, we have reported about the Dutch waste management organization Circulus Berkel and their recently opened textile sorting facility that has a strong focus on the sustainable and social reuse and recycling of textiles.

In the interview, Michiel Westerhoff, director of Circulus Berkel, stresses one of the major challenges for the textile sector to become sustainable and circular: Textiles today are not produced for recycling. They contain a mix of synthetic and organic materials, such a polyester and cotton, which improves wearing comfort but makes the material hard to recycle.

The use of polyester in the textile industry has risen from 8.3 million tonnes to 21.3 million, which equals a rise of 175%. These numbers illustrate how crucial it has become for the textile industry to develop better recycling techniques. Most of the mixed material products are still going to landfill or incineration, burdening the environment while becoming unavailable as a new resource.

Innovations in the textile industry are on the way to change this problem and to come up with recycling technologies that allow businesses, including SMEs, to recycle mixed material textiles.

The ‘Tex2Mat’ project is developing a technology that makes use of an enzymatic process, combining mechanic and biochemical separation techniques. The process separates the polyester based components of the textiles from the cellulose, cotton based components. The goal is to make the polyester available for reuse in the textile industry at high quality levels.

Other projects, such as the Relooping Fashion project, have developed techniques to recover the cellulose used in cotton based textiles and reuse it for new textiles while maintaining the quality of the material.

London based startup Worn again technologies has also developed a recycling process that recovers polymers from polyester based textiles. As the company claims, with this technology they are able to separate, decontaminate and extract polyester polymers and cellulose (from cotton) from non-reusable textiles and make them ready to be reused in textile production.

In true circular economy fashion, recycling textiles must come second to designing them to last, reducing overall consumption, and to improving reusability before recyclability. But until all fashion follows these principles, promising recycling techniques can help to recover material that would otherwise get lost in landfills and incinerators.

Report

Climate killer plastic?

2 July 2019

It is beyond clear that we need to address climate change at a global scale. Many have criticized that the transition to a circular economy requires large amounts of energy – the emissions of which cancel out environmental gains of reducing resource consumption and waste. Are waste reduction and the fight against the climate crisis competing goals – or maybe even best allies?

Landfilling and open dumping of solid household waste are associated with the highest amount of GHG emissions due to anaerobic digestion of organic material. This methane released is one of the most potent climate greenhouse gasses and reducing it is paramount to fighting GHG emissions in the waste sector. For this reason, many countries have or will phase out landfilling entirely.

With organic matter a well-known culprit, what about other sources of waste? The adverse impacts of plastic pollution have been discussed at length and public awareness about the issue is rising together with some tangible action from politics and the economy. The effect of plastic on the climate is far less obvious to many.

A recent study by scholar from UC Santa Barbara on plastic’s carbon footprint has shed light on this question.  All in all, the emissions from plastics in 2015 were equivalent to nearly 1.8 billion metric tons of CO2. Over half of the CO2 emissions in the plastic life cycle are related to emission during production. A total switch to renewable energy sources during the entire production process would result in a 51% reduction of GHG emissions in the plastic production chain.

When looking forward, global waste is expected to grow to 3.40 billion tonnes by 2050, more than double population growth over the same period. Daily per capita waste generation in high-income countries is projected to increase by 19 percent by 2050, compared to low- and middle-income countries where it is expected to increase by approximately 40% or more. With these numbers in mind, it is clear that waste generation needs to be tackled at the source, but GHG emission need to become a priority along the entire value chain, with recycling posing only a suboptimal solution in terms of GHG emissions.