Unlocking the value of textile wastes

QUT is working with industry partner BlockTexx to divert textile waste into new materials using groundbreaking technology that separates polyester from natural fibres.

Globally, an estimated 92 million tonnes of textiles go to landfill each year. This issue has been a massive blind spot in recycling and sustainability conversations, however textile waste has great potential to be transformed into a valuable commodity.

Only a small fraction of textile products from the fashion industry are collected and reused or recycled. The problem is exacerbated by the mixture of different natural and synthetic fibres in blended textiles, which makes effective recycling difficult.

Clean technology company BlockTexx began working with QUT researchers in 2018 to create a process that separates the cotton and polyester commonly found in many items of clothing.

This proprietary resource recovery technology, S.O.F.T.™ (separation of fibre technology), enables BlockTexx to manufacture high-quality raw materials from waste for reuse in many industries.

QUT researchers Professor Robert Speight, Dr Jan Zhang and Professor Ian O’Hara developed the process in collaboration with BlockTexx founders Adrian Jones and Graham Ross.

The process grew out of a QUT-funded Catapult project, which successfully separated polyester and wool. This project was led by Professor Speight, and included Dr Laura Navone, who brought expertise in enzymatic hair degradation; Associate Professor James Blinco, who specialises in polymer chemistry; and Associate Professor Alice Payne, who focuses on promoting the circular economy in fashion through finding new value for textile waste.

“Textile waste accounts for 3-4 percent of landfill, and far more is exported overseas, while charities struggle to cope with increasing volumes of poor-quality donations,” Associate Professor Payne said.

“We are identifying and testing solutions to effectively reuse, recycle and find new value for textile waste. Through better understanding of how people care for, dispose and recycle their clothes, we seek to prevent and reduce this waste.”

“Recovering the raw materials from unwanted garments opens up a huge range of options to recycle fabrics into products such as chairs, food containers, toothpaste, cosmetics, clothes, playground equipment, paint thickeners and much more,” said Professor Speight.

These types of innovations will enable textile separation and resource recovery at a commercial scale. BlockTexx co-founder Adrian Jones said the time has now come to address post-consumer textile waste.

“Unsold and unwanted clothing and textiles are piling up in landfills all over the world. Unlocking the value of discarded textiles will be a huge commercial opportunity that closes the loop in fashion production.”

Recently, BlockTexx was named one of the global 50 to watch early stage clean technology companies, recognising the company’s ability to accelerate the fashion and textile industries’ transformation to sustainable, circular practices.

Highlighting the valuable collaboration between BlockTexx and QUT, BlockTexx co-founder Graham Ross said, “By combining academic expertise and commercially successful business models, BlockTexx and QUT have realised a world-leading technology that is providing environmental and economic value to customers and community.”


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