What Are Recycled Textiles?

More people realize the importance of recycling old clothing and textiles. Worn-out clothes shouldn’t just be tossed in the trash when there are other valuable ways they can serve the environment and people in need.

Today’s textile industry is worth hundreds of billions of dollars ($5.02 billion as of 2021). So it is only expected that it’s one of the most prominent pollutants in the world. The effects that the industry creates last for a long time, and since it is a large industry, many adverse effects exist.

Recycled Textiles Explained

Recycling Textile

Textile recycling is making new textiles from used textiles for reuse or material recovery. 

Pre- and post-consumer trash are converted into fiber and used to create textiles that are upcycled into brand-new textiles in the textile recycling process.

You can obtain the textiles for recycling from two primary sources; pre-consumer (scrap created from textile industries or yarn and fiber manufacture) and post-consumer (clothing, household, vehicle upholstery, etc.).

Currently, the United Kingdom has the most incredible rate of textile waste sent to landfills anywhere in the world. Our environment takes further damage as a result of this.

Charity bodies collect most post-consumer textiles, but since all the clothing collected can’t be used, they sell the remaining to rag graders. The rag graders are responsible for sorting the textiles into export, fabric manufacturers, and wipers.

45% of the collected textiles are recycled as second-hand clothing and sold off to markets in developing countries, 30% is given to the wiper industry, and 26% is turned into new raw materials for insulation, stuffing, etc.

Recycled textiles have proved to possess many environmental benefits, such as the avoided use of virgin fibers and the prevention of pollution.

How are Recycled Textiles Produced?

Recycled Textile production

Recycling textiles follow a process that manufacturers must follow to achieve desirable results.

Reusable textiles are kept aside and sent to the shorting plants. Then, they are sorted by types (denim, T-shirt, etc.), quality, and brands. High-quality materials or textiles are now sent to developing countries or sold in the local market again.

For resale in other parts of the world, low-quality fabrics from the United States are sometimes transferred to antique stores in North America, where they are packaged, compressed, and placed in shipping containers.

Donating, collecting, sorting, and processing the fabrics, transporting them to consumers, and cleaning rags or end-products are all essential tasks. 

Due to their many differences, you can distinguish between natural and synthetic fabrics by their origin.

The steps required to create textiles from natural fibers are as follows:

The incoming textiles are first graded by material and color. Color sorting helps to determine textiles that don’t need to be re-dyed, thereby reducing the dying costs of the fabrics. It helps to save energy and avoids pollution of the environment.

Collected textiles are then shredded and converted into or pulled into fibers along with other fibers if possible (it usually depends on the end-use of the yarn).

The fibers are made into yarns used later to produce fabric types. 

The product yarn is cleaned, mixed through carding, re-spun, and now used for knitting or weaving.

Some yarn may not be used for textile reuse but compressed for the textile filling to be used in mattresses.

For polyester-based textiles, the textiles are first shredded, then granulated for processing into polyester chips. They are subsequently melted and used to make synthetic filaments or yarns.

A Brief History of Recycled Textiles

Textile recycling has existed for at least a hundred and fifty years, yet it keeps evolving.

The process was undertaken in the eighteenth century during the Napoleonic war, resulting in the shortage of virgin wool, which required the wool to be processed into new yarns. In the 19th century, wealthy U.S women loved to wear French couture, which was seen as a luxury back then. These women would rework or re-accessorize them and keep wearing them. 

Many of these expensive gowns became heirlooms, with the rich often passing them down.

Another form of reuse during these times was when owners would give off their castoffs to their maids or as charity.

In Paris, the norm was to sell gowns to second-hand dealers since the 13th century.

Types of Recycled Textiles

Different types of recycled textile materials include: 

  • Recycled Polyester

The thing about polyester is that; once made into fabric, it’s hard to recycle. Most of the time, recycled polyester is mainly made from recycled PET(polyethylene terephthalate).

Polyester is durable and resistant to environmental factors such as wind and water, stain, tear, and wrinkle-resistant. It is also resistant to shrinking and is lightweight. 

However, polyester has downs, such as its non-breathability, sensitivity to temperature, and flammability qualities. Synthetic polyester is non-biodegradable 

In the textiles industry, recycled PET bottles are primarily used to produce recycled polyester.

  • Recycled cotton

Recycled cotton is usually made from pre-consumer waste, i.e., factory offcuts, cotton scraps, etc. Recycled cotton is biodegradable, shortening the impact on the environment. It is closely similar to pure cotton and shares qualities with its natural form, excluding its elasticity.

Since recycled cotton isn’t made from cotton plants, it positively affects the environment, reducing water waste and contaminants.

However, the recycled form of cotton is quite expensive compared to its natural form and is mainly mixed with polyester fibers or pure cotton. Many times, the percentage of recycled cotton doesn’t exceed 30% of the finished product.

  • Recycled nylon

Recycled nylon can be made from pre-and post-consumer waste and helps to save energy since producing nylon from crude oil requires a lot of energy. Most recycled nylon textiles are made from waste items such as fishing nets.

Recycling nylon is more circular than recycled polyester and can be recycled indefinitely.

Most swimwear brands use Econyl, an advanced type of recycled nylon fabric.

  • Recycled wool

Wool is the most reused and recyclable fiber around the world. Since one can use wool for multiple applications before it needs to be replaced, it plays a positive role in the environment.

The process of recycling wool takes less energy than necessary. Currently, the challenges of recycling wool are few, but knowledge is necessary.

What’s the Average Cost of Recycled Textiles Per Yard?

Besides second-hand clothing, you can purchase recycled fabrics reprocessed into other fabrics from their original form.

You can purchase several recycled fabrics, such as recycled polyester, cotton, etc., online at affordable prices ranging from $10-50 per yard on average. 

It is evident that these recycled fabrics are cheaper compared to their pure forms, so it can be a way to save money. However, recycled textiles like recycled cotton are strangely more expensive than pure wool.

You can get various recycled materials with beautiful designs for a low price. You can also use it for almost anything, from house wear to upholstery to stuffing or insulation.

Recycled Textile Usage And Applications

Recycled Textile bags

Here are some ways to use recycled textiles to the fullest. 

  • Cleaning rags

Another way to use recycled clothing. Turning old cloth into cleaning rags will not only help you save money but keep your house clean at the same time.

You can also use the fabrics for crafting purposes, and if crafting is not in your field of interest, give it to a crafter you know.

  • Making a donation

Making donations is the best way to put fabrics through the recycling process. If you take this action, the environment, the poor, and you are all winners.

Donating to a charity organization is now easy; you can donate your clothing by arranging it through easy processes. Some companies even place boxes or containers mainly for donations in strategic locations, making the process easier.

  • Different types of textiles

Recycled textiles can be recycled into Stuffing and insulation(automobile) materials, T-shirts, towels, and clothing into wiping clothes or dusting rags, denim into home insulation, shoe soles into paving material, sweaters into carpet paddings. Also, curtains are turned into materials for pillow stuffing, sleeping bags, etc.; leftover textile scraps into paper money and wool sweaters into baseball and softball filling material. 

Recycled Textile Care And Maintenance Tips

Proper care plays a considerable role in maintaining recycled fabrics and can also serve as a factor in driving their longevity. When one takes proper care of clothing, they extend the time they can wear them and the possibility of reusing them. Here’s how to care for recycled textiles. 

  • Follow the washing instructions on the clothes label. The care label will include the washing and drying temperature, dry washing, and ironing. Carefully read the instructions to learn how to wash and take care of the clothing.
  • Wash your recycled textiles less frequently. Don’t wash it after wearing it only once.
  • Air dry these textiles in ventilated spaces and wear them several times. 
  • Wash them in cold water and by hand, preferably for the stained clothes.
  • Use ecological and mild detergents to wash your recycled textiles to avoid further contamination when washing.
  • You can dry them under the sun to save energy than using a dryer.

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