Textile fiber recycling may be performed via mechanical or chemical recycling, the latter being less commonly used since it still represents a scenario under development: available solutions may require further perfecting, or not be economically convenient, or suitable, yet, for XL volumes, as the market may require. Recycling processes via thermomechanical means frequently results in a loss of mechanical properties and overall performances, however they still represent the most frequently adopted recycling solution, even though chemical recycling leads to higher quality outcomes.
Mechanical recycling represents the basal process for recycling textile materials and consists in deconstructing the fabrics mechanically to obtain reusable fibers and material in an effective way. In the case of natural fibers, the resulting process outcomes are ready to be used to manufacture new yarns or new textile products, however they exhibit reduced quality features due to the fact that the fibers are shortened and damaged during the shredding process, and may require blending with additional fibers in order to create durable resulting fabrics.
Chemical recycling processes transform waste textile materials by means of specific chemical processes and enable the production of new fibers featuring properties that are equivalent to those of the initial fibers, or may be even better. Since these technologies are based on chemicals, they should rely on their re-use in order to be environmentally sustainable from the point of view of the process itself. More uniform and homogenous materials featuring low to zero amounts of colorants, dyes, finishes, prints and toxic substances have greater chances to be returned to a cycle, but blends and chemicals do not represent the only obstacle to effective and efficient recycling procedures. In the case of finished garments, deconstruction and recycling procedures are complicated and decelerated by sewing threads featuring different compositions than the garment’s material, as well as by buttons, zippers, closures, studs and further rigid components.
Keywords: textile recycling, mechanical recycling, chemical recycling, textile life cycle, end-of-life, closed loop, textile design for longevity