What's recycled fabrics?

Posted by Edwina Huang on
What's recycled fabrics?

What is recycled fabric?

Textiles made of natural or synthetic fibres are not just used for clothes but also used in homes, hospitals, workplaces, vehicles, in form of cleaning materials, as leisure equipment, or protective wear and so on. If these textiles are sorted, graded and reused again to make fabrics for different end uses it is called as recycled fabric.

Synthetic fibres i.e. man-made fibres like Polyester and Nylon are the most used and popular in the world. Polyester fibre demand in the world is much higher than any other natural or manmade fibres since year 2002 and it will continue to grow at a significantly faster rate as calculated by England-based PCI Fibres in its forecast out to 2030. [1]

Textiles made of regular polyester fibre are not environment friendly as the production of fabric involves huge quantities of water, chemicals and use of fossil fuels. The raw materials as well the byproducts are toxic, pollute water and air and cause several health issues. Hence companies have found ways to create polyester out of recycled plastic bottles or even recycled polyester fabric.

Similarly great progress has also been made to recycle other synthetic fibres types like nylon and spandex to make recycled fabrics to prevent fabric going to waste/landfill.

Use of recycled fabrics have significant importance as it provides both environmental and economic benefits. 

 

What are they made from? And what variation do Recycled fabrics comes?

We consider recycled polyester fabrics as an example to know more about the process and methods used for recycling. 

Recycled polyester fabric uses PET (polyethylene terephthalate) as raw material and this comes from recycled plastic bottles which goes to landfill. The Recycled polyester uses 33-53% less energy than regular polyester and it can be continuously recycled. [2] Recycled polyester also doesn’t require huge land to grow a crop or use of gallons of water like cotton for its production.

Recycled polyester fabrics can also come from used polyester fabrics where the recycling process starts by cutting the polyester garments into small pieces. The shredded fabric is then granulated and turned into polyester chips. The chips are melted and spun into new filament fibers used to make new polyester fabrics.

The source of RPET (recycled polyethylene terephthalate) is divided into “post-consumer” RPET and “post-industrial RPET. A small percentage for source of RPET can also come from the by product from fiber and yarn manufacturer supplying to garment making or retail industry.

The post-consumer RPET comes from used bottles by people; post-industrial RPET is from unused packaging in manufacturing plants or by products of manufacturing. 

 

What’s the production process? 

There are two types of production process for RPET:

Mechanical recycling or Chemical Recycling

Mechanical recycling is often most used process. To explain in simple term the process is done by melting the plastic and re-extruding it to make yarns. 

For mechanical recycling only thermoplastic materials are of interest, i.e. polymeric materials that may be re-melted and re-processed into products. Thermoplastics, including PET, PE and PP all have high potential to be mechanically recycled. Also it is important to know that the mechanical recycling of plastics waste is generally only feasible for homogeneous, single polymer streams or for defined mixtures of polymers that can be effectively separated into the individual polymers.

 

Steps:

  1. The collected PET bottles used for drinks packaging are sorted, sterilized, dried and crushed into smaller fragments called pellets or chips.

  2. The fragments are heated and passed through a spinneret to form strings of yarn.

  3. The yard is wound up in spools.

  4. The yarn would be processed and textured just like virgin polyester and, dyed then woven or knitted into polyester fabric.

Chemical recycling, creates a new plastic, with retaining the same quality as original though this process isn’t used as much as mechanical process because this process is very expensive. It is based on chemical breakdown of polyester into monomers, the building blocks of polymers. The polymer feedstock is then repolymerized to produce recycled material that is purer and is of a more consistent quality than produced by mechanical method. But chemical recycling is more energy intensive to produce. 

 

What are the environmental benefits for Recycled fabrics?

Using rPET to make recycled fabrics helps tremendously in reducing the landfill waste, pollution and energy thus making the environment eco-friendly. 

With the re-use of recycled fabrics in manufacturing processes or in consumption cycles, there is a strong decrease of CO2 emissions compared to the production of virgin materials. 

Another benefit is that the garments created from recycled polyester can be recycled again and again with very less or no degradation of quality, thus allowing to minimise wastage.  

Non biodegradability of polyester is actually a good thing in comparison to biodegradable fibres. Natural fibers like cotton and wool cannot be reused in the same way as polyester and even though they eventually breakdown they can still take years for decomposition. Wool which decomposes also produces methane which contributes to global warming which is not the case with recycled polyester fabrics.

Compared with silk, recycled fabrics do not cause harm to living creatures making it more ethical option. 

Use of recycled fabrics reduces pressure on virgin resources and as well as oil and other chemicals employed to produce synthetic fibres. 

 

Where can we find them? 

Polyester production is energy-intensive and relies on a finite, non-renewable natural resource that we utilise in many other ways as part of everyday life for energy, fuel, and plastics production. 65-70 percent of global polyester production is used for textiles, of which more than 65 percent is produced in China. Apart from china there’s a lot of manufacturers of rPET in India and America. The majority of the remaining 25-30 percent is used in the manufacture of PET beverage bottles.” 

Vivify textiles, offers one of the best quality of recycled fabrics in the market today. They offer various types of fabrics, and provides quality service to its customers worldwide.

*image credit for Daniel Anthony @ www.danielanthony.net


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