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Blend Re:wind: A new recycling technique for cotton & polyester separation

By Vivian Hendriksz



London - A new recycling technique developed by Mistra Future Fashion could change the future of the fashion industry. Named Blend Re:wind, the chemical method separates both cotton and polyester from cotton/polyester blends which can be used again in new, high-quality products.

Cotton and polyester fibres in the blended textile are separated during a chemical process and divided into three, clean outputs during the process; cotton and two components of polyester, one which is solid and one which is liquid. The cotton pulp extracted from the recycling technique can be regenerated into high-quality viscose fibres and the polyester can be rebuilt into new, strong fibres. The new recycling technique has been welcomed as a circular solution for both materials, as well as a key development for future global textile recovery systems, to enable to the circularity of fashion and closing the loop for textile production.

Blend Re:wind successfully separates cotton and polyester in cotton/polyester blends

“We came up with this method utilizing chemicals which are already used in the forest and viscose industry because we believe that this just the beginning of chemical recycling,” explained Dr Anna Palme, whose doctoral thesis project set the groundwork for the innovation to FashionUnited. She previously carried out extensive studies of used cotton/polyester sheets thrown away by hospitals. “In order to encourage the large-scale use of textile recycling within the fashion market and to scale the initiative up, we thought it would be very good to have a method which can be integrated into existing industries. The separated cellulosic materials, cotton, in this case, can be integrated into existing processes that use cellulosic materials, such as viscose production.”

The recycling of textiles to textiles while maintaining a high quality of the materials remains a complex task, as modern day clothing usually consists of several different material and fibre blends. Initiated in 2011, Blend Re:wind was developed together with the Swedish Mistra Future Fashion, together with research from the Chalmers University of Technology, RISE Research Institutes of Sweden and international forest group Södra. Unlike other recycling techniques, Blend Re:wind was developed using existing industrial processes to help minimise both the environmental costs and financial costs, to ensure the new technique is as sustainable as possible.

“A number of the other, newer recycling initiatives available today depend on the construction of a whole facility of their own - which can be costly, especially in Northern Europe," added Dr Palme, which is why the researchers developed the separation process to be integrated with other industries. "Our idea is to integrate the Blend Re:wind separation as much as possible, and to make it an add-on in already existing industries,” noted Dr Hanna de la Motte, head supervisor of Blend Re:wind. “With that, we have a hope to make textile recycling both simpler and cheaper. We hope that it will be taken on by other industries quickly and we aim to progress that.” However, ensuring the technique is able to move from the lab to scaled production remains expensive, and one of the biggest challenges. “It is in our progress, but it still early days.”

Blend Re:wind has already received three awards from the textile and waste industry this year for it ground-breaking technology and attracted a wide range of interest. “We have a lot of interest from many different players in the textile recycling industry,” said Dr Palme. But both agree that Blend Re:wind should not be toted as the be all, end all when it comes to cotton/polyester separation and recycling. “We do not maintain that our solution is the best or the final solution to textile recycling, but we think this might be one viable solution which can quickly be launched on the market to help speed up the industry’s shift to adopting more sustainable practices up-stream,” stressed Dr de la Motte.

Although overall awareness regarding textiles recycling and sustainable practices is increasing all over the world with number of new initiatives stemming from Europe and the United States, do not expect to see t-shirts and jeans made using Blend Re:wind technology hanging in your favourite high street store any time soon, as this reality is still “a bit far away.” “We have a lot of fashion companies in the Mistra Future Fashion program and they are very supportive of this technique and giving us feedback. But the technology still needs to be integrated and I think it will be at least ten years before it a wide-scale, commercialized process. However, this depends on how much interest there is in the recycling process and which companies we collaborate with.”

“It is a very critical and sensitive moment for us, but we hope within ten years we can take the next steps, which will take another ten years,” continues Dr Palme. “What we have shown now is that the chemistry works, but to make it into a working process, going to pilot scale and beyond that takes time.”

Homepage photo: Mistra Future Fashion

Other photos: Pixabay

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