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Australian technology could revolutionise textiles recycling

Approximately 3 million tonnes of post-consumer textiles is landfilled in Australia every year. Not for much longer, say Adrian Jones and Graham Ross. The entrepreneurs have developed a new process that converts blended fabrics into raw components.

Australian start-up BlockTexx created technology to separates polyester and cotton materials such as clothes, sheets and towels of any colour or condition back. The Queensland University of Technology co-created the innovative process, which yields ‘high value’ raw materials of polyethylene (PET) and cellulose suitable for ‘all industries’.

The recovered PET is polymerised to create virgin-quality “S.O.F.T.” branded rPET plastic pellets and polyester fibre. These may be used in textiles, packaging as well as building products. The recovered cellulose is processed to create cellulose powder that may serve textiles, pharmaceutical and food applications.

New textiles frontier

‘It’s our goal to recycle and reuse more than 10 000 tonnes of polyester and cotton from Australian post-consumer garments each year,’ say BlockTexx founders Adrian Jones and Graham Ross. They estimate that doing so could reduce CO2 emissions by over 15 000 tonnes. Also, the BlockTexx method could reduce the energy used in production by over 50%.

‘Monetising textile waste is the fashion industry’s new frontier,’ the duo argues. Jones and Ross note that it is vital to understand the ‘true cost’ of textile waste. ‘A good example of an external cost would be the disposal costs quoted by the national charity sector in Australia to transport and sort unsaleable product into landfill,’ the entrepreneurs state. ‘Currently, this costs around AU$ 13 million per year.’

Worn six times

Jones goes on to state that Australians buy 27kg of clothing and textile accessories annually. ‘We waste on average 23kg of textiles per year per person, second only to the US,’ he adds. Besides, Australians wear a garment an average of six times before throwing it out.

As a result, Australian charity stores receive 22 000kg of donations daily. ‘Charities are generally only able to sell 15 to 20% of donated clothing,’ Jones reports. Instead of improving domestic recycling rates, Australia exports a lot of its discarded textiles. The country exported 94 000 tonnes of textile waste in 2016-17 ‘and this volume is growing every year’,  Jones laments.

The arrival of BlockTexx is hoped to present an attractive alternative. The next step is scaling-up operations across the country. ‘There will be real change when the government supports this process and there is increased public and consumer awareness of the need to do so,’ Jones declares.

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