The value of textile waste

The value of textile wasteClean technology company BlockTexx worked with QUT researchers to create a proprietary process that transforms textile waste into a valuable commodity.

Globally, an estimated 92 million tonnes of textiles go to landfill each year. This issue has been a massive blind spot in recycling and sustainability conversations, however textile waste has great potential to be transformed into a valuable commodity.

Only a small fraction of textile products from the fashion industry are collected and reused or recycled. The problem is exacerbated by the mixture of different natural and synthetic fibres in blended textiles, which makes effective recycling difficult.

In 2018, the clean technology company BlockTexx began working with QUT researchers to create a process that separates the cotton and polyester commonly found in many items of clothing.

This proprietary resource recovery technology, S.O.F.T.™ (separation of fibre technology), enables BlockTexx to manufacture high-quality raw materials from waste for reuse in many industries.

QUT researchers Professor Robert Speight, Dr Jan Zhang and Professor Ian O’Hara developed the process in collaboration with BlockTexx founders Adrian Jones and Graham Ross.

proprietary resource recovery technology S.O.F.T.Wool/polyester garment circular lifestyle

The process grew out of an Institute for Future Environments-funded Catapult project, which successfully separated polyester and wool. This project was led by Professor Speight, and included Dr Laura Navone, who brought expertise in enzymatic hair degradation; Associate Professor James Blinco, who specialises in polymer chemistry; and Associate Professor Alice Payne, who focuses on promoting the circular economy in fashion through finding new value for textile waste.

“Textile waste accounts for 3-4 percent of landfill, and far more is exported overseas, while charities struggle to cope with increasing volumes of poor-quality donations,” Associate Professor Alice Payne said.

“We are identifying and testing solutions to effectively reuse, recycle and find new value for textile waste. Through better understanding of how people care for, dispose and recycle their clothes, we seek to prevent and reduce this waste.”

“Recovering the raw materials from unwanted garments opens up a huge range of options to recycle fabrics into products such as chairs, food containers, toothpaste, cosmetics, clothes, playground equipment, paint thickeners and much more,” said Professor Speight, Technologies and Processes Program Leader from the Institute for Future Environments’ Centre for a Waste-Free World.

These types of innovations will enable textile separation and resource recovery at a commercial scale. BlockTexx co-founder Adrian Jones said the time has now come to address post-consumer textile waste.

“Unsold and unwanted clothing and textiles are piling up in landfills all over the world. Unlocking the value of discarded textiles will be a huge commercial opportunity that closes the loop in fashion production.”

BlockTexx co-founders Adrian Jones (L) and Graham RossBlockTexx co-founders Adrian Jones (L) and Graham Ross

In 2019, BlockTexx was named one of the global 50 to watch early stage clean technology companies, recognising the company’s ability to accelerate the fashion and textile industries’ transformation to sustainable, circular practices.

global 50 to watch

The other 10 selected startups are:

Agile Process Chemical LLP – Recycling plastics, transparently. Leading technology and machinery supplier for recycling end-of-life plastic waste.

Banyan Nation – Unlocking the market for premium recycled plastics in India through technology innovations across the value chain.

Bintix – Bintix brings the data dimension into waste management, where all household waste is recycled and doesn’t end up in a landfill, and the value of waste increases ten-fold.

BluePhin Technologies – BluePhin is a smart robot that can collect floating waste in commercial water bodies.

Ishitva Robotic Systems Pvt Ltd – Ishitva designs & builds automated solutions using Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and IoT for sorting and segregation of dry waste including plastic waste.

Myanmar Recycles – Myanmar Recycles is a plastic film recycling facility specializing in post-consumer plastic that collects, sorts, washes, and pelletizes often ignored, hard-to-recycle plastic film into resin for domestic and international sale.

Plastics For Change – Plastics For Change has developed a marketplace platform that connects waste-pickers to global markets and ensures a consistent supply of high quality recycled plastic for brands.

PolyCycl – PolyCycl’s patented technology chemically recycles waste plastics to petrochemical feedstock that has been approved for the manufacturing of new monomers and plastics.

Re>Pal – Re>Pal recycles 100% mixed waste plastics from Indonesia into logistic pallets for sale across Asia from our factory in East Java.

Rekosistem – Rekosistem is an end-to-end zero waste management startup that aims for sustainable ecosystems via digital solutions and renewable energy.

Monetising textile waste
Unlocking the value of discarded textiles will be a huge commercial opportunity that closes the loop in fashion production. It’s not just fashion labels or designers are seeking solutions and new ways to work with recycle textiles. Charities, government bodies, corporations and large manufacturers are all looking for opportunities to reuse and repurpose unwanted fabrics – such as uniforms, hotel sheets and unsold stock.
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