World’s first fully-automated textile sorting plant for better waste management

Even though textiles and clothing are claimed to be nearly fully recyclable, less than 1% of clothing textile material is recycled into new clothes. This percentage means that around GBP 140 million worth of clothing is lost through landfills per year. Mixed textile waste is one of the significant problems which restricts its efficiency. Researchers, organizations, and entrepreneurs are working hard to solve the textile mix waste problem, increasing its adaptability worldwide.

An automated plant could solve the above-said problems in textile recycling. Tomra and Stadler have supplied the world’s first fully-automated textile sorting plant to Sysav Industri in southern Skane, Sweden. The plant sorts pre-and post-consumer mixed textile waste and is part of the Swedish Innovation Platform for Textile Sorting (SIPTex), a government-funded project. Automated sorting is the key to the circular textile economy.

The project aims to develop a sorting solution tailored to textile recyclers and the garment industry’s needs. Sorting textiles according to the various types of fibers requires a high degree of precision. It is currently done manually, but the result doesn’t meet the requirements of recycling companies and the fashion industry. As a result, only a small quantity of discarded textiles is recycled. The SIPTex project is exploring how to achieve the required quality through automation.

Urban Kozinc, International sales manager Stadler, said, “Working on this pilot plant, we have understood that the feeding system is essential, that the hoppers and chutes need a special design because of the size of the textile material, and that the conveyors needed special belts. We also had to find a way to achieve a constant material flow without peaks. And we learned that labeling on the textiles is not always 100 percent correct.”

The automated textile sorting plant in Malmo has a capacity of up to 4.5 tonnes/hour in one line. The incoming material is delivered in bales, typically weighing 350 to 500 kilograms. It includes pre-and post-consumer waste. The former consists of dry, industrial waste from textile producers such as clippings, yarn, and rejects. The latter comprises clothing and household textiles, including unsorted material from a separate collection from sources such as recycling centers and manually pre-sorted and industrial waste from textile leasing and rental services. The material is sorted whole and may contain buttons, zippers, and other non-textile parts.

Such an automated plant could be up-scaled for industrial needs for the recycling of textiles.

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