World-first for polyester textile recycling

The world’s first commercial-scale post-consumer polyester recycling plant has been unveiled.

Project Re:claim has successfully recycled polyester textiles back into raw material in a joint venture between corporate wear company Project Plan B and the Salvation Army’s trading arm, SATCoL.

Project Plan B’s exclusive system is based on plastic bottle recycling. Their tech uses a thermomechanical recycling process to recycle polyester garments and other manufacturing textile offcuts into rPET pellets made from textiles.

These pellets use almost 10 times less energy (11%) compared with pellets made from virgin polyester.

 SATCoL is installing the machine at their purpose-built Kettering centre, which already sorts and processes around 65,000 tonnes of donated textiles every year.

To maximise the volume and potential of the polyester recycling, SATCoL can’t rely on clothing bank donations alone, so is on the lookout for corporate partners to commit to donating 100% polyester textiles.

Tim Cross, CEO of Project Plan B, in Plymouth, explained: “We need a seismic change in how garments are designed and produced. Polyester textile recycling is one of the biggest opportunities to reduce the harmful impact of producing garments and this new technology is the first proven commercial scale system that has been designed to cope with the challenges of recycling post-consumer clothing.”

The new plant will recycle around 2,500 tonnes in its first year, rising to 5,000 tonnes in year 2, with the aim of recycling polyester that has come to the end of its useful life. The technology creates polyester pellets and has successfully produced the first yarn from these.

Majonne Frost, Head of Environment & Sustainability at SATCoL, said: “Last year SATCoL enabled reuse and recycling of over 250 million products but there are always items which are too damaged to resell – they are often garments made from polyester. 

“With this new technology we can give these clothes a new lease of life. So when your favourite jumper is worn-out, we will take it and turn it into polyester pellets, ready to be turned back into a new jumper. This is the future of fashion.”

She added: “Our vision is to enable companies to produce corporate wear and fashion garments using recycled polyester.

“The incredible vision of Project Plan B has brought about the development of the technology, we have the infrastructure to collect donations at scale, and we now need companies to step up. This is an opportunity for companies to make a commitment to significantly reduce their environmental impact. In preparation for full production, we are currently seeking 100% polyester textiles such as used hotel linen or post-event promotional banners.”

SATCoL already has the UK’s only automated textile sorting facility, Fibersort. Also based at the Kettering site, Fibersort automatically identifies and sorts second-hand textiles by fibre type and is the first step in textile-to-textile recycling.

This additional technology is the next step towards SATCoL’s ambition to create the UK’s first fibre farm, focusing on a massive scale-up of textile-to-textile recycling of all types of materials with huge potential for the fashion circular economy.

More Information

  •  Average life of a workwear uniform is two years.
  • Currently only 1% of textiles consumed in the UK are recycled.1
  • Every year, the UK produces over half a million tonnes of polyester textile waste, and households throw away 300,000 tonnes of clothing.2
  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or Polyester, is the most common thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family, used in clothing fibres, liquid and food containers, and thermoforming for manufacturing.
  • A tonne of new polyester clothing creates over 20 tonnes CO2e/T.
  • The UK currently has no textile polyester recycling systems. The only option is landfill or incineration.
  • No worn post-consumer polyester textiles are currently recycled.
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