On March 12th, the Fibersort consortium presented the market ready Fibersort machine to the industry; a cutting edge automated sorting technology that revolutionizes textile to textile recycling of post-consumer textiles. 

The mountain of used textiles keeps growing

The accelerating consumption and disposal practices in fashion cause textiles entering the market to reach their end-of-use rapidly. In North-West Europe alone, around 4,700 kilo tons of post-consumer textile waste is generated every year. On average, only 30% of these textiles are collected separately- the rest is lost within household waste. In the best-case scenario, these textiles are sold in the second-hand market both locally and internationally. The remaining textiles are considered non-rewearable textiles due to their unsuitability for the second-hand market or the market saturation that second-hand clothing is currently facing. Almost all of these textiles are currently being downcycled, incinerated or landfilled. Nevertheless, 24% of the textiles collected have the potential to be recycled into new textiles, but currently are not. These textiles represent 486 kilo tons per year, the equivalent to the weight of 50 Eiffel towers!

Automated sorting technologies could enable the industry to turn non-rewearable textiles that currently have no other destination than downcycling, landfill or incineration into valuable feedstock for textile-to-textile recycling. One of these technologies is the Fibersort, a Near Infrared (NIR) based technology able to categorize textiles in 42 different fractions based on their fiber composition, structure and color. Over the past years, the technology has been optimized, tested and validated to prepare it for commercialization. The Fibersort is now able to sort ~900 kgs of post-consumer textiles per hour.

Fibersorted materials have been validated by project partners and are ready for the market

The success of the technology is highly dependent on the end-markets that help transform textile waste into new resources. The Fibersort project partners Circle Economy, Valvan Baling Systems, Reshare, Procotex, Worn Again, and Smart Fibersorting have worked with industry stakeholders to better understand these end-markets, assess the potential of the sorted materials and validate the business case of automated sorting as a key enabler of textile-to-textile recycling. Results from these activities are available through project publications and Fibersorted materials are now commercially available for other organisations to test their potential for textile-to-textile recycling.

Challenges remain ahead – what can be done?

There are clear opportunities to successfully integrate automated sorting technologies and recycled post-consumer textiles across the value chain. Over the past years, innovation has spurred across this sector of the industry. However, several challenges remain to ensure the long-term implementation of these technologies in relation to financial and technical feasibility as well as the opportunities to scale. Collectors, sorters, recyclers, manufacturers, brands and policymakers have both opportunities and responsibilities to address these challenges. Although the Interreg NWE Fibersort project reaches its ending date in March 2020, the partners in the Fibersort consortium expect to continue working towards this circular ambition, as well as encouraging others to join the journey.

An end to a project, a start to a new journey

On the 12th of March, the Fibersort consortium demonstrated the technology to the industry and other relevant stakeholders during a webinar. The webinar was organized as an alternative for the Interreg NWE project’s Final Symposium that was scheduled on the same day but that had to be cancelled due to the implications of corona virus. During the webinar, the project partners shared current performance information about the updated machine and discussed their experiences with post-consumer textiles so far, as well as the challenges that remain ahead in the spaces of collection, sorting, chemical and mechanical recycling.

About The Fibersort Consortium Partners

Collaboration between all different stakeholders in the end-of-use value chain is essential to the success of this project. The most critical steps in the chain that are needed to create industry transformation are represented:

Textile collection: Leger des Heils ReShare collects around 26 Kt of used clothing in the Netherlands annually. The non-rewearable portion of textiles that are collected generally represents profit loss (or breakeven) for collectors and sorters. However, through the Fibersort project, ReShare has strived to increase the value of collected textiles by creating a market for them in textile to textile recycling markets.

Textile sorting: Smart Fibersorting is a sister company of Wieland Textiles, a sorting company that processes around 9 Kt of used textiles annually. Smart Fibersorting had a crucial role in setting up and optimizing operations of the demo plant as an extension of Wieland’s business to ensure optimal technological performance and an improved business case. With the development of the demo plant, Wieland textiles aims to establish a sustainable business model for recyclable textiles. This is a model that allows textiles to maintain, rather than lose, their value by becoming feedstock for textile to textile recycling processes.

Textile recycling: Procotex Corporation processes a wide range of fibers for various applications such as yarn spinning, automotive, mattress, geotextile  and other industries. Procotex recycles natural, synthetic and technical textiles as well as preparing flax fiber for the spinning industry. Within the project, they have tested and validated the sorted fractions in their textile to textile recycling processes. Worn Again Technologies is a technology licensing company that is developing and commercializing proprietary solvent-based processes that will enable end-of-use textiles and polyester packaging resources to remain in constant circulation, driving positive economic, social and environmental impacts. Within the project, Worn Again has analyzed and tested the sorted materials through their polymer recycling technology to ensure that textiles were separated and prepared in accordance with their recycling process.

Fibersort machine development: Valvan Baling Systems is market leader in the supply of automated sorting as well as baling systems. Within the Fibersort project, Valvan Baling Systems is leading the design, engineering, software development and construction of the Fibersort machine.

Market uptake: Circle Economy is a Dutch-based impact organization. Our mission is to accelerate the practical and scalable implementation of the circular economy. At Circle Economy, we believe in a visionary future for our planet — one in which we do not have to compromise in order to achieve economic, social, and environmental prosperity. As an impact organization, we connect and empower a global community to create the conditions for systemic transformation. With nature as our mentor, we work alongside businesses, cities and governments to identify opportunities to make the transition to the circular economy and provide a powerful combination of practical and scalable solutions to turn these opportunities into reality. Our mission is to empower a global community of businesses, cities and governments to accelerate the transition to the circular economy through practical and scalable insights and solutions that address humanity’s greatest challenges.

The Fibersort project is funded by Interreg NWE

Interreg North-West Europe (NWE) is a European Territorial Cooperation Program funded by the European Commission with the ambition to make the North-West Europe area a key economic player and an attractive place to work and live, with high levels of innovation, sustainability and cohesion.