So what’s the actual process?
After collection, textiles are taken to a recycling centre, such as LMBarry in East London.
Clothes are classified into three groups: reuse, rags and fiber. This process is generally done by hand. Conveyor belts and bins might also be used to help separate the different materials. Clothes that can be reused could be sent to charity shops or to markets abroad for resale.
How natural textiles are recycled
- Natural textiles that are identified for recycling are sorted by colour and material. By segregating colours, the need for re-dying can be eliminated, which reduces the need for polluting chemicals.
- Textiles are then pulled into fibres or shredded. Depending on the end use of the yarn, other fibres may be added into the mix.
- The yarn is then cleaned and spun. Then the yarn is re-spun, ready for subsequent use in weaving or knitting.
- Not all fibres will be spun. Some are compressed to be used for fillings, such as in mattresses.
- Textiles which are sent to the flocking industry (this is when millions of synthetic or natural fibres are attached to a surface), are used to produce filling material for furniture padding, panel linings, loudspeaker cones, and car insulation.
How synthetic textiles are recycled
The recycling process works differently for polyester-based materials.
- Zippers and buttons are removed and the fabrics are cut into smaller pieces.
- The shredded fabrics are granulated and shaped into pellets.
- These are then melted and used to create fibres which can be used to make new polyester fabrics!
Why is recycling textiles important?
Once they end up in landfill, natural textiles can take hundreds of years to decompose and can release methane and CO2 gas into the atmosphere as part of this process. Synthetic textiles are designed not to decompose which means that in landfill, they can release toxic substances into groundwater and the surrounding soil.
11 million items of clothing go to landfill in the UK every week.