How does textile recycling work?

Textile recycling is the process by which fabrics and clothing can be recycled for further use. People can donate old clothes for fabric recycling, after which the items will need to be sorted and processed, then transported for distribution to new users.

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Fabric recycling has become more popular due to more people getting interested in recycling in general, along with cheaper clothing costs, which leads people to buy more. With more clothes being bought, people want to make room for their new items, so old clothes are given to charity or recycled.

Sources of fabric

Fabric recycling comes from two main sources: pre- and post-consumer. Pre-consumer means yarn scraps and manufacturing castoffs, and post-consumer means clothing and household and vehicle fabrics. In the UK, about half of collected textiles are reused and the other half is recycled. In Africa, about 80% of people wear used clothing, which has led to concern about the damage this could do to the local clothes manufacturers.

Types of fabric

The textile recycling process depends on the type of fabric – whether it is natural or synthetic. In natural fabrics such as cotton fabric, items for recycling are sorted by colour. Then they are shredded, cleaned and re-spun ready for knitting or weaving. Clothing made from good quality cotton fabric, such as that from and other stockists, can be worn again or recycled in this way. Some fibres are compressed for use as fillers for mattresses.

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Polyester material and other synthetics are shredded, then granulated to be processed into polyester chips, before being melted and used to make new fibres for polyester. This process ensures old clothing can be used again in some respect and helps sustainability of the textile industry.

High street stores support recycling

Some big name stores are backing the drive to improve recycling efforts. H&M and Zara are two stores supporting in-store recycling, asking customers to leave bags of clothes they no longer want, to be recycled.

The textile industry is worth $1 trillion globally. This includes clothing and also fabric for furniture and mattresses, drapes and other items. 80 billion items of clothing are produced yearly worldwide, but the recovery rate is only 15%, so textile recycling needs to be encouraged. Hopefully, more stores will get involved in the effort and fabric recycling will become the norm.

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