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Automating textile waste will create a new era in clothing recycling

Presently textile and apparel sectors are accountable for committing water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and landfill. So, one of the fundamental circumstances keeping up behind the application of the circular economy in this sector is the elimination of textile waste, which requires a higher degree of accuracy but it’s still accomplished manually.

Being nimble to automate the procedure and turn it into an industrial phase is, therefore, the key to a real revolution in the textile world.

Automating-textile-waste-create-new-era-clothing-recycling
Figure: The first recycled textile clothes from textile waste. Courtesy: Collected

Computerized sorting for the actual circular textile economy funded by Vinnova, the Swedish government’s research and development agency, and led by IVL, the Swedish Institute for environmental research, the facility is part of the SIPTex project (Swedish Innovation Platform for Textile Sorting), which intends for to develop a fabric filtering treatment suited to the requirements of recyclers and the fashion industry both.

The result is a synergy between Stadler, who designed and built the facility, and Tamara, who supplied the NIR optical separators. The latter is essential to the automated textile waste sorting process, which, as the two companies’ engineers explain, has never been attempted before.

“Sorting textiles according to the various types of fibers they contain requires a high degree of precision,” explains the Tamara experts.

It is currently done manually, but the result doesn’t meet the requirements of recycling companies and the fashion industry. As a result, only a small quantity of discarded textiles is recycled and the potential for increasing it is enormous. The SIPTex project is exploring how to achieve the required quality through automation.

This is also the goal of the German company Stadler and the Norwegian company Tomra, both specialized in collecting and recycling systems, which have opened the world’s first fully automated textile sorting plant in Malmö, Sweden.

The Malmö plant is the third phase of a journey that began a few years ago. An initial theoretical study phase was followed in 2017 by the start-up of a small pilot plant built in Avesta and also designed by Stadler and Tamara, which collected and sorted 700 tones of textile waste from recycling centers.

The second hands-on phase served to understand the technical and logistical issues that needed to be solved. Stadler’s director of international sales, Urban Kozinc said “Our main objective was to test our equipment’s capability to sort the textiles and identify any changes or optimizations to the process that may be required,” Among the various “discoveries” in this phase of the study, Stadler and Tomra engineers also learned that “labeling on the textiles is not always 100% correct,” a point that creates quite a few inefficiencies in the recycling process.

Once the problems were solved, the third phase took off with the start-up of the fully automated sorting plant Sysav Industry AB in Malmö. The plant has a capacity of up to 4.5 tones/hour in one line. The incoming material is delivered in bales comprising pre-and post-consumer textile waste, i.e. industrial waste such as cuttings, yarns, and scrap, and used domestic clothing and textiles. All to be sorted and separated by type and quality.

Matej Forests, project manager at Stadler said, “In the Avesta pilot project we demonstrated that TOMRA´s NIR sorting technology is capable of recognizing and differentiating various types of textiles.”

“In the third phase, our objective was to ascertain that the system we designed could all be sorted and separated by type and quality. He also added that in the third phase, our objective was to ascertain that the system we designed could successfully operate on an industrial scale, and the output fractions can achieve the purity and recovery required for recycling and  reutilization also there is no industrial-scale technology for recycling textiles without down-cycling them, so we had to develop the complete sorting solution.”

Vice-president at Tomra László Székely said that little research is so far available on the recycling of textile fractions, to be effective, automated sensor-based sorting is essential. In this project, our technology has proved efficient in separating different textile fractions by material type and color. We are proud to be part of this pioneering work.

If anyone has any feedback or input regarding the published news, please contact: info@textiletoday.com.bd

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