The technical hurdles to recycling cotton clothing have been too great in the past, but now a team of researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research and a Swedish company have overcome that hurdle. They are the first to produce a rayon filament yarn made from recycled cotton. This fiber can even be used to manufacture textiles on a large scale.
Countless closets overflowing with clothes, but many of those pants, skirts, or tops are rarely worn by their owners or never at all, as a Greenpeace study of shopping habits recently published.
For the manufacture of clothing requires a large amount of resources, chemicals and water. Although many countries recycle used clothing, it ends up becoming a product like cleaning cloths, rather than being used to make new clothes.
This is because pants, shirts, and the like are often made from blends rather than just one type of fabric. To date, it has been impossible to separate these interlaced fibers.
Textiles are rarely made from pure cotton. Jeans, for example, always contain a certain amount of fibers like polyester or elastane.
André Lehmann, a researcher at the IAP Fraunhofer in Potsdam.
Working on behalf of the Swedish company re: newcell, this chemist and his team succeeded in converting recycled cotton pulp into viscose rayon fibers made from pure cellulose.
The textile industry often uses pulp as a starting material to produce cellulose fibers like viscose rayon. This pulp does not melt, so it has to be dissolved in a solution and passed through a row to be spun into cellulose fibers. The raw material for this pulp is generally wood.
However, re: newcell sent us cellulose sheets made from recycled cotton and asked us to find out if they could be converted into rayon fibers. We were able to extract the foreign fibers from the pulp by setting the proper parameters for the dissolving and spinning processes, for example with efficient filtration steps.
This resulted in a filament yarn, that is, a continuous fiber strand several kilometers long consisting of 100% cellulose, whose quality is comparable to that of regenerated wood-based cellulose fiber.
Compatible with the standard industrial process for making rayon, the new fibers spun from this cotton pulp are suitable for mass manufacturing.
“ We were able to meet re: newcell’s high purity standards for the new fiber, ” says Lehmann, who calls this filament yarn a cotton-based regenerated cellulose fiber. It holds up well compared to commercially available rayon fibers, with the same properties.
Cotton clothing is often incinerated or ends up in landfill. It can now be recycled multiple times to contribute to greater sustainability in the fashion industry.
More information: www.fraunhofer.de