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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Materials & technologies projects > Recycling textiles
Graphic element Recycling textiles

European Union consumers discard 5.8 million tonnes of textiles a year. Only 1.5 million tonnes (25%) of these post-consumer textiles are recycled by charities and industrial enterprises. The remaining 4.3 million tonnes goes to landfill or is burnt in municipal waste incinerators, representing an enormous unused source of secondary raw materials. The European Commission has therefore funded a wide range of projects covering both design for reuse and increased use of recycled content in new products.

A CRAFT project co-ordinated by Tricoop , a Belgian specialist in the sorting and distribution of second hand clothing, investigated the production of felts and similar products from textile waste obtained by sorting the clothing collected by the charities and commercial organisations. The most important research topics concerned the classification of waste and the identification of their fibres and any hazardous components in either the dye or the textile.

Partners included the Institut Textile de France (ITF) in Lyons, the Centre de Recherches Scientifiques et Techniques de l'Industrie des Fabrications Métalliques (CRIF/WTCM) and the Centre Scientifique et Technique de l'Industrie Textile Belge (CENTEXBEL) in Liege, Belgium and industrial companies in France and Belgium.

Widening use of recycled products

The main applications of recycled textiles are for wiping rags, fibre production and applications in the paper industry. To enlarge the possibilities, a BRITE-EURAM project co-ordinated by Dutch company S. Frankenhuis & Zn. B.V. carried out studies on how to widen the use of recycled products with the objective of increasing the use of recycled materials by 10%. This project involved industrial and research partners from both German and the Netherlands.

Three technologies were used for the identification of fibrous raw material and dye/finish: near infrared; thermal impulse response: and laser induced breakdown spectroscopy. Combinations of these techniques make it possible to identify the raw materials in textiles with a 90% accuracy.

Dual approach required

However, overall, as in all other industrial sectors, making better use of recycled textiles requires a dual approach: an increased use of products containing recycled content and a more systematic design of recyclable components and materials.

Vehicle makers, for example, are forced to recycle their products after use. At the end of their lives, cars have to be disassembled and the resulting parts used for the same or similar products, to reduce energy consumption and save resources.

Products used for furnishing and upholstery of car seats, composed of laminates of polyurethane foam and polyester or polyamide fabrics, present major disposal problems. This formed the basis of a BRITE-EURAM project led by Institute of Textile Research and Industrial Co-operation INTEXTER at the Universitat Politécnica de Catalunya in Spain, with the Sächsisches Textilforschungsinstitut (STFI) in Germany and industrial partners in Germany, Ireland and Spain.

The objective was to develop a new production technology that results in a soft and voluminous product called 'knitted non woven' and based on 100% textile fibres of the same type of the polymer as the fabric composing the outer surface as a substitute for the polyurethane layer. The new approach results in a fully recyclable textile product with enhanced wearing properties. And the recycled fibres can be reused in the new product.

Widening use of recycled products
Dual approach required

Key data

Design for reuse and increased recycling of post-consumer textiles are an important part of the GROWTH Programme's New materials and production technologies generic activity.


Recycling of second-hand textile waste (CR1197-BRE21397)

IDENTITEX: Innovative technologies for the economically sound identification and sorting of post-consumer textile (BRST985363)

Development of recyclable upholstery textiles for automotive industry design and public transport (BRPR960292)


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