EP2: Gerwin Homölle, How to turn old clothes into new textile products via mechanical recycling

During this interactive session, Gerwin Homölle, from ALTEX Textil-Recycling, and Julie Lietaer, from AriadneInnovation, discuss how to turn old clothes into new textile products via mechanical recycling.

Some key takeaways from the session.

  • Mechanical recycling, from textile to fiber, sources for raw materials
    • Pre-consumer: waste streams from knitting, spinning, nonwovens, and clothing production
    • Post-consumer: materials from sorting companies, traders, and disposers
      • Collecting organisations sell textiles they can not use to sorting companies, they resort and sell the streams they can not resell to the second hand market.
      • Disposers example: jute coffee bags used for transportation of the coffee beans

  • Challenges to buying the raw materials (waste streams)
    • Quantity and quality are not always controllable
      • Companies are investing to eliminate waste as much as possible
      • For suppliers, it is not a ‘product’, but it is considered as waste
      • At the moment lack of raw materials as customers do not buy a lot of new clothes and hence do not clean out their closets
    • Price sensitive market

  • The process to go from old jeans to new textile product
    • Recycling company buys stream of old jeans
    • Full jeans go through a cutting line to pre-adjust the length of the fiber: cut min 2 times in 2 different directions
    • The textile pieces continue a rejection process to eliminate all the nontextile materials (like buttons/zippers/labels/..)
      • Repeated 3 times
    • Materials go into a big blending box
    • After blending the fabric pieces proceed to the pulling shredding line :
      • Line with big tumblers with sharp needles
      • For jeans, they use 6 tumblers, as jeans are very strong materials (the more tumblers the finer the fiber)
    • After pulling, the fibers can be pressed into bales for transport
    • Or the fibres can be blended homogeneously with new virgin fibers

  • Used denim for a consumer is WASTE, but for a recycler, it is a RAW Material
    • There is around an 8% loss during the whole process to get a new recycled fiber (zippers, buttons, dust,…)
    • For other streams this is around +/- 3% loss

  • In 2019 ALTEX Textil-Recycling processed 200T of used jeans
    • Most flows into the automotive market
      • On the bottom of almost every car, there is a nonwoven produced out of 50% old jeans
      • People are not aware of this, and don’t realize the importance of recycling old clothes
    • European Spinning Group managed to spin a new yarn out of these fibers, an opportunity for new, high-quality applications
      • Discover all the projects on www.hackyourjeans.com
    • In cooperation with Ariadne & the Ellie.Connect ecosystem, there are also opportunities to set up your own recycling and product development project

  • Why recycling?
    • The raw materials are there, but consumers need to be aware of the importance to recycle them
    • Can eliminate the use of new materials
      • Per 1kg of virgin cotton replaced by recycled materials, you save more than 4.000l water
      • Low energy process for the recycling process

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