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Six Recycling Innovations That Could Transform the Fashion Industry

The fashion industry is grappling with a colossal waste problem, prompting governments, especially in Europe, to set ambitious recycling targets. However, the intricate nature of textile recycling poses a challenge, with technical solutions still in their infancy. Critics argue that these innovations may serve as a smokescreen for over-production, a pervasive issue. Nevertheless, the urgency to scale up recycling is real, driven by impending massive fines for non-compliance with recycling standards set by the EU. Circular economy consultant Paul Foulkes-Arellano emphasizes the need for brands to achieve high levels of recycling rapidly.

Circ: Unblending Clothes Most garments consist of material blends, making recycling challenging. US-based Circ introduces a chemical solution to separate the common polycotton blend. Using a hydrothermal process, Circ liquifies polyester, separating it from cotton. Both materials can then be repurposed into new fibers. Zara has already utilized this technology in a clothing line released in April.

SuperCircle: Collecting and Sorting The world lacks efficient infrastructure for collecting and sorting large volumes of old clothes. SuperCircle integrates delivery firms, warehouses, and tracking systems to streamline and cost-effectively manage the recycling process. With in-store drop-off bins, free shipping labels, and other incentives, they aim to change public attitudes toward recycling. SuperCircle, starting with their brand Thousand Fell, now handles recycling logistics for various companies, including Uniqlo North America.

Saentis Textiles: In-House Recycling Saentis Textiles addresses the challenge of recycling cotton with minimal damage to fibers through a patented machine. Brands like IKEA, Patagonia, and Tommy Hilfiger use their recycled cotton. Saentis now offers its machine to textile companies, enabling in-house recycling of cut-offs and scraps.

Unspun: 3D Weaving Machine Unspun claims to have developed the world’s first 3D weaving machine, creating custom-sized jeans directly from yarns in under 10 minutes. This innovation, currently being tested in Oakland, California, could reduce the need for brands to maintain large inventory stockpiles, thus minimizing waste and transportation.

Cetia: Preparing Old Clothes France-based Cetia specializes in preparing clothes for recycling. Their machines range from simple ones, like removing shoe soles, to more complex ones that use AI to identify and a laser to remove hard points such as buttons and zippers without damaging the item.

Rubi Labs: Carbon-Capture Fabric Rubi Labs tackles waste carbon dioxide by converting it into cellulose, similar to how plants grow. The resulting cellulose pulp can be used to make yarn. While the scalability remains to be seen, Rubi Labs has initiated a pilot project with Walmart in July to test this innovative approach.

In the pursuit of sustainable fashion, these recycling innovations offer a glimpse into the transformative potential of technology in mitigating the fashion industry’s environmental impact. Though some may fail, these contenders represent significant steps towards a more eco-conscious and responsible future for fashion.

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