RECYCLING

ATC – RECYCLING

The importance of circularity has become apparent across many industries. In fashion, much focus is placed on the concept of recycling materials, in order to secure a circular design strategy.

This can allow for old and disposed of materials to be used to produce new textile fibred and new garments. Resources can be re-used again and again, and there could be minimum need for further material extraction from an already exhausted global supply. Nowadays, there are two ways to perform textile fibred recycling: mechanically and chemically (without counting composting and re-growing resources, that is!).

Mechanical recycling is more commonly used than chemical recycling, due to the fact that the latter is still underdeveloped and more expensive. Mechanical recycling is the simplest way to recycle materials.

The process involves mechanically deconstructing the fabrics, in order to end up with re-useable fibred and material, that are ready to be used to make new yarn and fabric. It is an effective way to bring used materials back into the cycle.

However, the down side is that natural fibred are shortened and damaged during the shredding process. Their quality is reduced, their circularity limited and they generally require being mixed with other fibred to guarantee durability in the resulting textile. One fibred loses in quality and length every time it goes through the process.

For natural fibred the end results are significantly weaker than virgin fibred. So, reaching certain quality standards is only manageable if the recycled fibred is mixed with a virgin fibred. For instance, if using regenerated cotton fibred, these would generally need to be fused with virgin cotton fibred threads to obtain the needed quality and strength – the mix often approximating 20% regenerated fibred and 80% virgin.

Despite the quality decreasing each time material resources are re-processed, mechanical recycling remains an important and effective way to re-use resources and keep them in the loop for longer.

Unfortunately, not all textiles are suitable for mechanical recycling. Those that are include pure cotton, pure polyester and textiles with high wool content. Textiles with mixed fibred are generally difficult to recycle to a high value, and some fibred mixes are especially problematic, e.g. those that contain spandex or elastane – therefore discarded jeans that contain spandex or elastane mostly end up as insulation or industrial wipes.

Chemical recycling, as the name indicates, entails materials going through a chemical process to produce new filaments that will be transformed into new yarns and fabrics. So far, this technique requires textiles consisting only of the same fibred for it to work efficiently and without complications. This method can already be found in the textile industry, although not yet at a wider industrial scale. Only polyester chemical recycling is used in full scale in Asia. Cotton recycling is seen in lab scale, where chemicals are used to reformulate the cotton fibred.

The outcome of a chemical recycling process of fibred is just as strong if not better than the initial virgin fibred.

The drawback to this method when it comes to being environmentally friendly is the use of chemicals. That is why chemicals used during the recycling process should in turn be re-used, rather than discarded after each process, in order for this to completely fit into a closed loop system. If investment in technology and resources allowed for it, chemical recycling could expand across the fashion industry, and offer a more efficient way to recycle fibred.

Improvements needed!

Only a few front-runner brands are dedicated to this topic and focus on recycling materials from their own products after end-of-use. Right now, the volume of textile-to-textile recycling in Europe is very low. Much of what is recycled today is in fact “downcycled” – value is lost as fabrics are transformed into cleaning cloths, insulation materials, carpet underlays and the like, and these are often unsuitable for recirculation. Downcycling should be a last resort solution. There are many reasons why it is so common among recycling in the textile industry to resort to downcycling, and in most areas there is room for improvement to avoid downcycling and poor recycling in the future.

Improvement needs to start from the design stage: at the moment, our products are not designed properly, in that they are not suitable for recycling. Most of the 400 billion square meters of fabric or 80 billion items of clothing made annually are designed in ways that they cannot serve a circular purpose.

Barriers and obstacles to overcome by design!

Mechanical and chemical recycling systems are essential to re-using our valuable resources, rather than opting for new ones and discarding used ones. Yet, there are barriers both in the available technology and in the market, that cause obstacles in the recycling processes. These are aspects that should be considered during the entire design and development process, to enable easier and more effective recycling methods:

•Today, material blends are not recycled, due to the amount of research and energy required to separate the different fibred from each other. The more a material is homogenous, the more chances it has to be returned to the cycle.

•Another challenge to recycling is the presence of rigid parts, such as closures and buttons. These complicate and slow down the deconstruction and recycling procedure.

•A common obstacle is also the use of sewing threads that have different compositions to the garment’s material. Again, this is a detail that has an effect on the speed and efficiency of the process.

•The presence of colors, dyes, finishes, prints and toxic chemicals can only make the technique more complex.

•Collecting, identifying and separating materials into different categories is a system that should be easier, as it is a necessary component to prepare materials for recycling. Today, the sorting process is done manually (often after collected materials are shipped to low wage countries). Considering the large number of textiles that recycling – and particularly chemical recycling – requires, it is necessary to shift to an automatic sorting procedure. This involves new material categorization detection methods and new textile markings.

Many of these barriers to recycling are surmountable if we make changes to our design processes. For these Reason the Vision of ATC Recycling is to Start to collect and sort-age the cutting waste from CMT factories.

Production Process

Collecting and sorting waste:

1. The main raw material, cotton cutting waste, is collected from cut, make and trim (CMT) factories and then sorted by quality and color.

Recycling

Each quali

ty and color batch is mechanically opened into fibred. The color of the waste defines the color of the final product. No dyeing is needed.

Blending
The mechanically opened cotton waste is mixed with chemically recycled polyester fibred from PET bottles.

 

Spinning

The mixed fibred are spun into yarns. This part of the process is the same as when spinning fibred from virgin material.

Knitting and weaving

    1. The yarns are knitted or woven depending on the final use of the fabric.

Finishing

Depending on the final use of the fabric, the finishing process can include different stages such as compacting, brushing and washing.

The final product will be ready to offering to CMT factories.

Few words for about CMT Production:

This process consists of the cutting, making and trimming of the final product.

Final Product

Finally, we get sustainable good quality garments that use 99% less water and generate 50% fewer CO2 emissions in the production process than similar products made of virgin materials.

Made of 100 % recycled raw materials.

    • 60 % recycled cotton
    • 40 % recycled polyester

Please note that our recycling process is not entirely clinical and our products may contain small amounts of different colored fibers. In dark colors, fibers of different colors do not stand out, but in light colors they are more easily visible. For us, these little colored fibers in our fabric are a feature that reminds us of the uniqueness and origin of our products.

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