Blog - The wonderful world of textile recycling

Maybe it's just me, because I'm working on it on a daily basis, but all around me I see, read and hear about new developments in textile recycling (see also the list compiled by Circle Economy). But what exactly is 'better' mechanical or chemical textile recycling

In order to answer that question, it might be useful to first briefly explain what mechanical textile recycling and chemical textile recycling actually mean. In mechanical recycling, the textile waste is fiberized or melted and then spun into a new yarn. In chemical recycling, the textile waste is broken down to the smallest building blocks (at the molecular level), after which they are rebuilt into a textile raw material and a new yarn. Wolkat uses the former, mechanical recycling method.

Both technologies have their advantages and disadvantages. For example, initiatives based on chemical recycling often focus on only one or sometimes two textile raw materials (such as cotton and polyester, etc.), while mechanical technology can also process blends consisting of several types of raw materials; the mechanical process is therefore less choosy in this respect. Whether a textile product can be recycled mechanically, on the other hand, is more dependent on the construction of a particular fabric; a knitted sweater is easier to fiber than a tightly woven parka jacket. In chemical recycling, the fabric construction is of less importance.

Another difference between the two technologies is the use of color. At Wolkat and other companies that recycle mechanically, the textile waste is sorted by color, after which it is fiberized and spun into new yarn. The recycled yarn is not repainted, which means that in terms of color options for the new textile, you are quite dependent on your source material and the way in which you combine this source material into a blend. On the other hand, water and dyes are saved in this way. With chemical recycling, a colorful mix of colored textile waste can be processed, because during the process the color is filtered out and then colored again. Of course this will cost a lot of water and paint.

As a final difference between chemical and mechanical recycling, by fiberizing the textile in the mechanical method, the fibers in the yarn become shorter. That is why a certain percentage of new fibers is always added in the process to make the yarn strong enough. In contrast, chemical recycling technologies promise to obtain a fiber equivalent to virgin fiber. Whether this is really the case is still unclear; because chemical recycling technologies do not yet operate on an industrial scale but on a lab scale, little is known about the quality of the chemically recycled yarn they can make.

If you ask me, however, there is no competition between mechanical and chemical recycling. Both technologies are working hard to improve the process and thus the recycled product. Process development is also continuously underway at Wolkat. Both mechanical recycling and chemical recycling have their advantages and disadvantages. The mountains of textile waste available for recycling are diverse; from discarded sock to a broken fireman's suit. Some of those mountains will be better chemically recyclable, some will be better mechanically. Both technologies are badly needed to recycle the total amount of textile waste and thus create a more circular textile industry. Wolkat therefore strives to keep abreast of developments within the chemical recycling of textiles,

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Kimberley van der Wal
Business Development

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