As more clothing and textiles end up in landfills throughout the world, environmentalists have sought creative solutions for reducing the impact of such waste. Scientists in Sweden may have done just that after discovering a new method for recycling — and recreating — cotton.
Researchers at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm are finding ways to preserve cotton instead of trashing it.
Their new form of recycling will allow the fabric to be reused — and that’s good news as cotton supplies dwindle.
Cotton comprises about one-third of the world’s textile consumption; due to increasing demand to shift land usage toward food production, cotton production could decrease as the world’s population increases.
Worldwide clothing consumption has increased as garments have become less expensive and more cheaply made. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization reported that 69.7 million tons of clothing were purchased in 2010. One decade prior, clothing consumption for the year was at 47.4 million tons.
By 2013, the amount of clothing consumed per person reached about 22 pounds (or 10 kilograms).
While the amount of clothing purchased may not seem high, the amount of clothing produced and purchased is projected to increase as the world’s population rises. However, this also means more clothing and textiles being thrown away instead of being recycled.
And some of the world’s textile usage is just unsustainable, such as wall-to-wall carpets that are eventually discarded altogether and rarely recycled.
Recycling as little as 75 tons of clothing and textiles, on the other hand, has the same impact as forest of 10,425 mature trees in terms of benefit to the environment.
Due to the processes developed at the Royal Institute of Technology, re:newcell, a Swedish textile recycler that helped invent these methods, is building their first fabric-recycling facility to use this technology.
The re:newcell method takes the old cotton and textiles and rips them into threads. From there the threads are dissolved into a liquid with the consistency of a porridge. Once non-recyclable materials are removed (zippers, buttons, etc.), new threads are formed from the liquid to create the fabric commonly known as rayon.
Henrik Norlin, the business manager at re:newcell, explained that their method allows them to recycle fabrics that contain a mix of cotton and other materials, but they receive the best results when only pure cotton is recycled.
Back in June a team of Swedish companies, including the researchers, developed a dress made 100% out of recycled cotton, the first ever of its kind.
Other recycling processes have been developed in the past, such as one that creates polyester from recycled plastic bottles.
The company plans to open their first recycling factory over the next 18 months. The facility will be able to recycle up to 2,000 tons of fabric annually.