The weaving and textile industry as well as interior design, furniture, automotive, construction, operators of office and commercial spaces... These are only some of the numerous industries that can benefit from textile processing. Where to begin? Who to look up to and how to plan the future. And above all - what actions can be taken right away?
To begin with - why is it WORTH it? Firstly, an increasing number of consumers are paying attention to the issues of circularity and sustainability. In their eyes, it is becoming more valuable for the materials used to be certified as being of 'sustainable' origin, as well as to plan how they will be used in the future in line with the circular economy. Customers appreciate this, and some are prepared to pay more for such solutions. Importantly - the trend is growing rapidly each year, so it makes sense to start investing in good changes now. More experience in this area will bring great benefits and competitive advantages in the future. A very practical reason is simply that textile waste is a great source of raw materials for the production of new textile products. An important argument is regulation: the increasing production of synthetic materials has led to high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, which, in the face of CO2 production charges, has automatically increased the demand for recycled fabrics at global level.
Now, why SHOULD we do this?
Textiles surround us everywhere, and a majority of them are made from synthetic fibres. Environmentally harmful chemical dyes are used in the production of virgin fibres - by recovering recycled fibres we minimise the use of these toxic substances.
Hundreds of thousands tonnes of carpets, rugs, bedding, roller blinds and curtains, upholstery fabrics for furniture and car or aeroplane seat upholstery are usually collected at landfill sites after their function has ended, and these take up a lot of space and pollute the environment. Normally, the process of decomposition of synthetic plastics and textiles takes several hundred years, and is accompanied by the pollution of soils and waters through the release of harmful substances.
The huge potential of circular textile processing is sure to be recognised by companies in the construction, interior and office fit-out sectors, flooring solution providers and operators of commercial spaces. Let's start with soft floor coverings. A high percentage of carpets and rugs are made of synthetic fibres, which prevent them from decomposing. The scale of production is huge and the market is growing rapidly, especially in Asia. In 2015, almost 400,000 tonnes of floor coverings were used in the UK alone - a significant part of which were carpets and rugs. Often several different fibres and materials are used in their production, presenting a difficulty in recycling process. Despite this, 125,000 tonnes of this waste was processed within the UK in the corresponding year of 2015.
What does carpet processing look like now? What can we do? What does the future hold? Firstly, initiatives and technologies are emerging to improve the recycling process. For example, the 'Refinity' separation technique, which uses a special near-infrared analyser, makes it possible to separate the various types of synthetic fibres of which a carpet is composed. This way, two main streams of recyclable materials are created: fiber and backing. Recovered fibres of the desired purity are sent to a factory where new yarn is made from them. Polyamide 6 fibres, for example, are processed in this way. In this way, fibres from this compound can be recycled practically indefinitely! Underlay material is also used along the way - the most common is bitumen, which finds its place in the process of making road surfaces and roofing.
Another example is provided by Aquafil, one of the pioneers of circular processing of synthetic fibres. It has developed an innovative, legally protected technology. At its two recycling facilities - in Phoenix and Woodland, California - it recycles millions of carpets a year by breaking them down into three components: polypropylene (PP), nylon 6 and Calcium carbonate.
Polypropylene finds its way into production by injection molding, Nylon 6 is sent to a factory in Slovenia where, along with other waste materials such as used fishing nets or textile offcuts, it forms the raw material base from which the finished material - patented ECONYL® nylon - is produced. The last of the waste streams extracted from carpets, calcium carbonate, goes into road and concrete construction.
Another example is the Tarkett brand range, with which Deko Eko has just collaborated on its latest textile project. Launched by the brand, the ReStart programme is an initiative aimed at closing the life cycle of carpet tiles. As part of this, used carpets are collected for recycling. Fibres are then extracted from them. They serve as the basis for the production of new yarn. New carpets and rugs and other textiles are created from it.
For our client, the Dutch branch of Nationale Nederlanden, we carried out a complex project. The aim was not only to recycle textile waste, but to give it a higher value. So we designed a production process combining seven entities and their unique capabilities. As a result, first we recycled the used carpets to extract fibres from them for new yarn. Then we designed and implemented the production of bags made of fabrics created in the process of recycling carpets.
Deko Eko's team of specialists was responsible for:
We have divided the whole project into phases. Nationale Nederlanden's used carpets were delivered to a recycling company → They were recycled to recover the fibres and produce yarn from them → Econyl fabric created by processing the fibres from the carpets was obtained in place of the returned carpets → Dutch design studio Dresscode 010 designed a useful bag from it for NN specifically for the project → The bags were sewn by a public benefit institution that aims to bring people from disadvantaged backgrounds back into the labour market.
While the furniture industry seems ideal for implementing innovations in the circular use of furniture upholstery fabrics, there are still relatively few examples of this approach.
A step in the right direction is an IKEA initiative that has introduced a limited collection of denim covers for Klippan sofas. This project is a collaboration with the Dutch brand Mud Jeans, which is one of the forerunners in the production of recycled denim. Covers created as a result of this collaboration are sewn from denim, which in 40% comes from used jeans. This means that 2 pairs of pants were used in the production of one cover. According to calculations provided by the Swedish manufacturer, each cover created in this way saves 27,000 liters of water and reduces CO2 emissions by 67% compared to the same cover that would have been made from denim produced in a traditional way. The collection was launched in 9 European countries, and along with it an additional initiative - customers who donated used denim clothes in the store received a 10% discount. This is an additional incentive to encourage consumers to use resources rationally - according to current data, only 1% of denim products are turned back for reuse in the production of new material.
In turn, one of the leaders in the production of office furniture, the Polish company Nowy Styl, is introducing an increasing number of upholstery materials from recycled or renewable sources. The increasing use of polyester fabrics made from recycled PET bottles (which are either landfilled or incinerated when unused) provides a good example. Pressed felt made from 100 percent recycled bottles, which the company uses to manufacture the panels in its modular Tepee system, can serve as an example. This is a very practical application, and the fact that the fabric is synthetic and single-material allows it to be recycled relatively easily at the end of the product's life cycle.
How are other industries, such as automotive and construction, approach the problem? What are the universal standards and ways for our company to start exploiting the opportunities offered by the processing of usable textiles? This is what you will find out in the second part of our article. We already encourage you to read!