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For us consumers, one of the most common ways to recycle the clothes we do not use is by donating them to be reused, either by low-income people, family or friends who fit them and give them a good use. But, what happens when the garment is already very deteriorated? The ecological issue is on the table and it is something that worries us all, but what are we doing besides worrying?
The benefit of recycling our textiles is mainly the reduction of resource consumption in producing new garments, this way we save new raw materials and amortization of machinery.
The main processes for textile recovery are:
- Mechanical recycling; without any chemical treatment and this includes grinding the yarn for spinning or new fabric. For example, recycled cotton.
- Chemical recycling; uses technologies other than mechanical, on a smaller scale and like the previous technology, the fibers are shredded, reducing them to chemical components, eliminating impurities and building blocks for new yarn.
Clothing is generally made of cotton, which is a biodegradable material, and synthetic plastic. The textile composition affects the durability and method of recycling, which is why clothing is sorted by color to avoid re-dyeing.
Once they are classified, they are shredded and mixed with other fibers of the quality required for the product to be used. Once the mixture is clean, they are ready for spinning, weaving or compressing, the latter being used for the production of mattresses, stuffing or insulating materials.
When the clothing to be recycled is 100% cotton, the new textiles have to be mixed with 100% virgin fibers, since it is impossible for a garment to be 100% recycled for quality motives. Commonly no more than 30% of recycled cotton is used in a finished piece, even if it is a lower percentage of the virgin fiber, this helps to avoid the use of pesticides, water and insecticides, since this plant is usually very attacked and its cultivation is not easy, by recycling cotton we save natural resources and decrease the pollution caused by agriculture.
Recycled cotton is commonly combined with recycled plastic bottles to make clothing and textiles; it is also used to create paper, which is stronger than paper made from wood; it is used on banknotes and important documents because it does not tear or wear easily.
The first thing to do is to remove buttons, zippers or applications of any other material, the garment is cut into small pieces, these are granulated and then formed into small pellets. The pellets are polymerized into small pieces of polyester, which are melted and spun into new fibers that are used to produce new polyester fabrics.
This polyester consumes less water, less energy and fewer natural resources. In addition, it gives the manufactured yarn an extra durability and consistency, which recycled cotton lacks, but, on the other hand, it is not (easily) recyclable or biodegradable.
Sports brands are the ones that use this type of fabric the most, as is the case of Nike, the one that uses it the most (in tons). According to Inditex, between 5% and 10% of the clothes sold at Zara are recycled. And globally, Textile Exchange estimates that in 2016 approximately 7% of all polyester was recycled.
- Recycling clothes reduces gas emissions into the atmosphere.
- Reduces wastewater discharge
- Avoids excessive cultivation of textiles and excessive textile production
- Reduces the use of fertilizers and chemicals.
If we all get involved in textile recycling, it would have a great impact on the industry and the environment, a new and sustainable way of consuming fashion.