Considerations in recycling garments with blended fabrics

Recycling blended fabrics remains challenging. Here are some options and points to consider regarding the recyclability of blended fabrics.

Romany Sascha Boertjes

1/30/20242 min read

Recycling blended materials, which are fabrics made from a mix of different fibers like cotton and polyester, is more challenging than recycling single-material fabrics. However, there are several methods and emerging technologies that are making this process more feasible:

Mechanical Recycling: This method involves physically breaking down fabrics into their component fibers. However, mechanical recycling is more effective for single-material fabrics, as it's difficult to separate different types of fibers from blends.

Chemical Recycling:

  • Solvent-Based Processes: These involve using chemicals to dissolve one type of fiber in the blend, allowing the other fibers to be separated out. For instance, in a cotton-polyester blend, chemicals might dissolve the polyester, leaving behind the cotton fibers.

  • Depolymerization and Repolymerization: For synthetic blends, such as those containing polyester, chemical processes can break down polymers into their monomers. These monomers can then be purified and re-polymerized into new fibers.

Thermal Decomposition: Some methods involve using heat to break down synthetic fibers in a blend to their basic components, which can then be reused.

Enzymatic Recycling: This is a relatively new approach where specific enzymes are used to break down certain fibers in a blend. For example, enzymes that specifically break down cellulose can be used to dissolve cotton in a cotton-polyester blend, leaving behind the polyester.

Closed-Loop Systems: Some manufacturers are developing closed-loop systems where they take back their own products at the end of their life and recycle them into new products. These systems often involve advanced recycling technologies tailored to the specific blends used by the manufacturer.

Material Identification and Sorting Technologies: Advanced sorting technologies, such as near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy, can be used to identify the different materials in a blend, which is a critical step in the recycling process.

Design for Recyclability: To facilitate recycling, there's a growing movement towards designing products with recyclability in mind. This includes using mono-materials where possible or designing blends that are easier to separate and recycle.

Research and Development: Continuous research is being conducted to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of recycling blended materials. This includes developing new processes and enhancing existing ones.

The recycling of blended materials is a rapidly evolving field, with new technologies and methods being developed to make this process more efficient and environmentally friendly. As these technologies mature and become more widespread, the recycling of blended textiles will likely become a more integral part of the textile industry.