Together with spinning machine maker Rieter, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts and partners from the public sector, brands and retailers, circular service specialist Texaid completed the Swiss textile recycling project “Texcircle”.
The result is a range of product prototypes from sweaters, socks and curtains to carpets, upholstery and accessories developed with between 50 and 80 percent recycled fibres and yarns.
The aim was to pool knowledge to find out how systems can be created to produce high-quality products from recycled fibres. The design research expertise of the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, the spinning expertise of Rieter and the sorting and collection know-how of Texaid were supported by Swiss retailer and wholesaler Coop, sock maker Jacob Rohner AG and carpet maker Ruckstuhl AG, as well as work wear maker Workfashion.com, Bundesamt für Zivildienst (Federal Office for Civilian Service) Zivi, Swiss fashion label Nikin AG and Tiger Liz Textiles.
Upcycling, not downcycling
Through joint developments from the design, the collecting, sorting trials, tearing and spinning trials until the actual production trials and product testing, the project was able to recycle 2.5 tons of pre-and post-consumer textile waste into product prototypes with a promising commercial interest.
This did not happen without roadblocks: “Through our two years of collaboration, we came across several hurdles in the textile recycling value chain, which we could tackle. This was a proof of concept that a circular system is possible and we now have to enable this at full scale as an industry,” is the conclusion.
“This project was an important step for us to come closer to the realization of new products made out of post-consumer textile waste. We need innovations and collaborations like this to enable a circular textile industry. For Texaid, it was important learning to understand the hurdles in the sorting, pre-processing, and further processing steps, and are thrilled to see the first product prototypes with recycled content reach the market next year,” commented Martin Böschen, CEO of the Texaid Group, in a press release.
For the sweater, discarded jeans were cleaned of foreign substances and shredded into fibres in France. Rieter then spun these into a rotor yarn for use in knitwear. It was partly mixed with virgin fibres from organic cotton in various proportions and tested.
According to the description on the project website, “in the process, we tried to achieve as high a recycled content as possible. We were able to produce test yarns with a proportion of 70, 80 and 90 percent recycled fibres from jeans.”
Two different raw materials were recycled for the socks: unworn Zivi t-shirts and unworn pants from Coop bakeries; in the future, worn garments will also be used.
In a first step, all labels, buttons, zips and cuffs were removed. Then the textiles were shredded in France and Italy. The shredded baker's trousers were then spun into a ring yarn by Rieter and the Zivi t-shirts into a rotor yarn by Marchi & Fildi.
Old winter coats with a wool content of at least 70 percent that Texaid could no longer use were utilised for the carpet. They were first sorted by colour and materials, then unwanted materials such as lining, glue, buttons and zips had to be removed.
Together with textile waste from Tiger Liz Textiles, the leftover coat material was shredded into fibres in Italy. Marchi & Fildi then spun these into a carpet yarn that consisted of 30 percent wool from the old coats, 20 percent wool from old sweaters and 50 percent new, undyed New Zealand wool. Ruckstuhl processed it into a carpet that withstood a stress test.
For different types of bags, both used and unused baker's jackets from Coop were used and freed from unwanted components. Together with old black t-shirts collected by Texaid, they were shredded into fibres in France. These were processed into various fleeces.
“The aim of this series of tests was to develop a fleece exhibiting good values in terms of strength and abrasion, but also to investigate the possibilities of the art-related use of recycled materials in the fleece,” explains the product description.
The fleeces produced were evaluated by an extended project group consisting of Coop and Rossi Design Ltd. and turned into prototype accessory products. They consist of 75 percent shredded fibres and 25 percent Biko-PET fibres, which are required to solidify the material.
Prototype insulation for vest
The basic material for the garment's insulating fleece was duvets and cushions with polyester padding collected by Texaid. In a first step, the collected material had to be carefully separated from the outer shells. The project group tested different cleaning methods and opted for ozone technology.
The cleaned polyester flakes and the fleece were then pulled apart by Jakob Härdi AG. The loosened fibres were blended with fibre residues from production and Biko fibres and processed into a fleece.
The resulting fleece consists of 100 percent PET. The blend consists of 49 percent recycled fibres (from bedding), 30 per cent rPET from industrial waste and 21 percent PET Biko binding fibres. The fleece is 20 millimetres thick and has a grammage of 200 g/sqm. It was used as an insulating layer in a vest supplied by Workfashion.com.