Press release 2016-06-23

Automated sorting will increase recycling of textiles

Every year 4.3 million tonnes of textile waste is used in the EU as landfill or incinerated. Over 120 000 tonnes of new textiles are injected into the Swedish market, but just barely 5 percent is recycled. This is far too little according to IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, which together with ten other actors will develop and test automated sorting; in order to facilitate high-quality textile recycling.

- An automated sorting of textiles makes it possible, as opposed to manual sorting, to manage large streams of textile and at the same time produce sorted textiles that are better adapted to different recycling, says Maria Elander at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute.

The potential for increasing the textile recycling in Sweden is great. Of all the clothing and household textiles sold in Sweden only around 20 percent are gather for reuse. Less than 5 percent are recycled. The goal is to eventually create sorting capacity for 45 000 tons of textile recycling.

- The textiles that are collected today are sorted manually. But it is difficult to sort clothes and other textiles for recycling, partly because a growing proportion of the textiles consist of mixed materials. Industrial and automated sorting processes, suitable for fibre-to-fibre recycling, are necessary in order to handle large amounts of fabric with high precision, says Maria Elander.

The first phase of the IVL-led research project SIPTex was conducted in 2015. In that phase the potential for an automated sorting was examined. The project conducted a small scale testing technique where optical sensors detect different types of materials. It's the same kind of technology that is used when sorting packages, now used in a new context. SIPTex have shown that automated textile sorting has the potential to provide both high sorting rate and a high purity of the sorted textiles.

Based on the promising results the project is now moving on to the next step - building a unique test environment for automated textile sorting. Behind the project is a broad consortium of eleven project partners, including research institutes, authorities and participants from different parts of the textile value chain. A sorting facility will be leased and operated in Sweden for a year and the facility will handle and sort used textiles that are collected at recycling centres in Stockholm and Malmö. The sorting will be done based on the need of the potential customers. The project will also test and evaluate new possibilities for how to collect textile and textile waste, as well as examine how targeted communication efforts can contribute to an increased textile collection.

- The idea is to create a sorting solution that is tailored for the needs of both the textile recycling industry and the textile business. Thus becoming the link that is missing today between textile collection and a high-quality textile recycling, says Maria Elander.

For more information contact:

Maria Elander, maria.elander@ivl.se, phone. +46 10-788 66 56

Anna Jarnehammar, anna.jarnehammar@ivl.se, phone. +46 10-788 65 76

SIPTex is funded by Vinnova and is a Step Two project within the Challenge Driven Innovation program. It is led by IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute and conducted along with a wide consortium of research institutes, authorities and participants from different parts of the textiles value chain; Gina Tricot, H & M, Human Bridge, Malmö, Stockholm Water, SYSAV, ReturTex, Swerea IVF, the Swedish Chemicals Agency and the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.