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Swedish textiles recyclers say farewell to manual sorting

A fully automated textiles sorting line – claimed to be the world’s first – is to ramp up capacity and improve quality output at Sysav Industri of Malmö in south Sweden. Stadler designed and built the plant while Tomra provided the near-infrared sorters.

The new facility is part of a government-funded project, the Swedish Innovation Platform for Textile Sorting (SIPTex), which aims to supply higher quality textiles to recyclers and the garment industry.

Sorting at Sysav is currently a manual operation but the company’s output no longer meets the requirements of recycling companies and the fashion industry. As a result, only small volumes of textiles are being recycled. ‘The potential for increase is enormous,’ stresses SIPTex. The platform believes automation can help to achieve higher quality material.

The Malmö plant is the third phase in the SIPTex project following an initial theoretical study and in 2017 the construction of a small pilot plant in Avesta, also designed by Stadler and Tomra. In this second phase, 700 tonnes of used textiles were collected from recycling centres. Following a manual pre-sorting of reusable textiles, the waste material was fed into the Avesta pilot plant.

Learning by doing 

‘Our main objective was to test our equipment’s capability to sort the textiles and identify any changes or optimisations to the process that may be required,’ explains Stadler’s international sales manager Urban Kozinc. ‘The biggest challenge was that automated textile sorting had never been done before. We have learned that the feeding system is very important, that the hoppers and chutes need a special design because of the size of the textile material, and that the conveyors require special belts.’

The technicians had to find the best way to achieve a constant material flow without peaks or troughs. They also learned that labelling on textiles is not always 100% accurate. In this phase of the project they gained the knowledge they needed for the third phase, the industrial-scale plant.

Clothing, buttons, zippers

The Malmö facility has a capacity of up to 4.5 tonnes per hour on one line. Incoming material is delivered in bales weighing from 350 to 500 kg. This includes both pre- and post-consumer waste. The former consists of dry, industrial waste such as clippings, yarn and rejects from textile producers. The latter is made up of clothing and household textiles, which include unsorted material from separate collection from sources such as recycling centres, and manually pre-sorted and industrial waste from textile leasing and rental services. The material is sorted whole and may contain buttons, zippers and other non-textile parts.

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