A Carbon Footprint of Textile Recycling

Global population growth and rising living standards are increasing apparel consumption. According to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, textile consumption increased by 40% between the years 2000 and 2009 in Sweden. The intention of the study is to identify possible recycling technologies and determine whether the suggested recycling techniques for household textile waste could potentially result in a net environmental benefit, compared to current practices.

Summary

Global population growth and rising living standards are increasing apparel consumption. Consequently, consumption of resources and generation of textile waste are increasing. According to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, textile consumption increased by 40% between the years 2000 and 2009 in Sweden. Given that there is currently no textile recycling plant in Sweden, the aim of this article is to explore the potential environmental benefits of various textile recycling techniques and thereby direct textile waste management strategies toward more sustainable options.

Three different recycling techniques for a model waste consisting of 50% cotton and 50% polyester were identified and a life cycle assessment (LCA) was made to assess the environmental performance of them. The recycling processes are: material reuse of textile waste of adequate quality; separation of cellulose from polyester using N-methylmorpholine-N-oxide as a solvent; and chemical recycling of polyester. These are compared to incineration, representing conventional textile waste treatment in Sweden.

The results show that incineration has the highest global warming potential and primary energy usage. The material reuse process exhibits the best performance of the studied systems, with savings of 8 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2-eq) and 164 gigajoules (GJ) of primary energy per tonne of textile waste. Sensitivity analyses showed that results are particularly sensitive to the considered yields of the processes and to the choice of replaced products. An integration of these recycling technologies for optimal usage of their different features for treatment of 1 tonne of textile waste shows that 10 tonnes CO2-eq and 169 GJ of primary energy could be saved.

Coworkers: Tomas Rydberg

Year: 2015.0

Report number: A2298

Authors: Tomas Rydberg, Zamani, B., Svanström, M., Peters, G.

Published in: Journal of Industrial Ecology, Volume 19, Issue 4, pages 676–687, August 2015; doi:10.1111/jiec.12208