The University of Huddersfield is involved in a new £4m project that aims to stop thousands tonnes of textile waste from going to landfill.
Over one million tonnes of textiles are generated annually in the UK, with around a third of these non-wearable textiles (NRT) either sent to landfill, incinerated or sent to lower cost labour regions to be sorted. Garments of different fibres cannot be sorted by eye, while there is no industrial process to remove buttons, zips and trim.
Together with UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) and several prestigious companies, Huddersfield is one of just two universities involved with a project to develop and pilot the world’s first fully-integrated, automated sorting and pre-processing plant for waste textiles (ATSP) over the next two years.
The Autosort for Circular Textiles Demonstrator (ACT UK) will support the transition from uneconomic manual sorting of clothes and textiles that are not suitable for resale, to highly-automated sorting and pre-processing. This can then be used as feedstock for existing and emerging recycling processes.
The University of Huddersfield has an excellent track record of research and innovation in the textile industry’s sustainability. It will host the 92nd Textile Industry World Conference on 3 – 6 July, with a theme of ‘Sustainability of the Textile and Fashion Supply Chain – Transitioning to Zero Carbon and Zero Waste’.
ACT UK brings together a consortium of recycling technologies, textile collectors/sorters, academia, manufacturers, industry associations, technologists and brands/retailers, supported with funding from Innovate UK. It is part of a broader Circular Fashion Programme supported by Innovate UK, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
The project partners are Circle-9 Textile Ecosystems, IBM, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Pangaia, New Look, Reskinned Resources, Salvation Army, Oxfam, Textile Recycling International, Shred Station, Worn Again Technologies, English Fine Cottons, Alex Begg, Camira, Manufacturing Technology Centre, University of Leeds, University of Huddersfield, Textile Recycling Association and WRAP. Other partners are expected to join the consortium.
Professor Parik Goswami, an investigator of this project and the Director of the Technical Textiles Research Centre at the University of Huddersfield and also a UKFT Director, said: “This trans-disciplinary project, supported by holistic stakeholder intervention, is a perfect example of how solutions to real-life problems need to be addressed. This project is solution-driven and not just subject-driven.”
ACT UK will build on sorting approaches that are currently coming to market in countries such as the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. The UK approach will innovate, combine and advance existing and new supporting technologies to overcome current barriers to materials circularity.
The project will bring together and advance key technology components including state of the art optical scanning, robotics, AI, pre-processing (buttons, zips, trim removal) and size reduction equipment – all under one roof. It will create a world-class blueprint that integrates the latest technologies and can be deployed across the UK.
Adam Mansell, CEO of UKFT, said: “What happens to our textiles when we no longer need them is a growing problem that we cannot ignore. With this ground-breaking project, we are aiming to create a model to sort and prepare NRT for recycling in a way that’s never been done before, at scale. A national system of recycling plants could save 100,000s of tonnes of material from entering landfill. In turn, the system could generate huge volumes of material for use across the UK textile manufacturing sector.”