It is known that more than 500,000 tonnes of clothing waste is sent to landfill each year . But a new way of recycling could redirect some of our unwanted textiles from polluting the environment, by repurposing cotton waste into anything from new clothes to prosthetic knees.
Developed by the team at Deakin University, where they work on designing materials and processes for a circular economy, this solution for recycling textiles involves dissolving cotton and regenerating it into brand-new cellulose – a complex, strong carbohydrate with many industrial uses.
With the textile industry generating so much waste, the only way to keep up with the demands set by fashion trends and the wear and tear of our clothes is to make the industry sustainable.
Textile waste consumes nearly 5% of all landfill space, and 20% of all freshwater pollution is a result of textile treatment and dyeing. Growing cotton requires harmful pesticides and fertilisers, and textile-manufacturing plants release hazardous waste into the nearby land.
Synthetic dyes also come at a cost to the environment. The dyeing process involves a lot of water, and not all of it is efficiently cleaned before re-entering our environment.
Waste water from textile dyeing can affect the entire water ecosystem. This is because some dyes don’t ever degrade in water. Those that do degrade produce harmful byproducts – sometimes carcinogenic.
Importantly, despite the energy and resources used in the production process, not all cotton produced makes it into our clothes. Around 23.6 million tonnes of cotton is produced each year, but the weight of stems, leaves and lint from the plant amounts to 18-65% of each bale of cotton.
From what is left, even more cotton fibre is lost in the process of spinning cotton buds into yarn because some fibres break during spinning. Some of this raw material waste can be used to make products such as soaps, animal feed or cotton seed oil, but the rest is thrown away.
Wasted raw cotton material aside, it can take nearly 2,700 litres of water to produce a single cotton T-shirt and more than 7,600 litres to make a pair of jeans.It’s no wonder that we want greener clothes!