Towards textile to textile recycling: Is there a sustainable solution?

Polyester is one of the most widely used polymers all around the world, with applications that span from packaging to textiles. Depending on its use, the material composition can be quite different, with a polyester amount ranging from more than 99% for PET bottles to 25% for some textile products. The most common method for the recycling of plastic waste is mechanical recycling. This process typically includes collection, sorting, washing, and grinding of the material, but a breakdown of polymer chains occurs when the resin goes through multiple cycles, degrading its intrinsic viscosity and limiting the number of times the process can be repeated.

The larger amount of polyester is then landfilled or incinerated, and this is particularly true for textiles, where colorants and dyes can play a pivotal role. Is there a sustainable solution? Polyester wastes that are not mechanically reused can be depolymerized via a chemical process to recover the monomers that can be used to produce new “virgin” PET and then more sustainable fibers, avoiding non-renewable sources.

A presentation by Fabio Silvestri, Head of Marketing and Business Development at gr3n SA.

Interview

Question 1: What drives you?
What drives me is the idea that I can do something important, something that can have a positive impact on the future but also on our daily life.

Question 2: Why should the delegate attend your presentation?
The delegate should attend the presentation because they will know more about a solution that will speed up the transition towards a more circular approach, enlarging the textile recycling boundaries.

Question 3: What emerging technologies / trends do you see as having the greatest potential in the short and long run?
AI will definitely play an important role both in the short and long run, from applications like autonomous driving to something a bit less trendy but even more important for the textile industry, waste sorting. Sustainability is no anymore an emerging trend but it will have a huge impact from different points of view.

Question 4: What kind of impact do you expect them to have?
Both will change our way to interact with each other and with the environment, massively changing our habits.

Question 5: What are the barriers that might stand in the way?
We all have a certain resistance to change, so every time there is something unusual or far away from what we are used to, there are barriers. Recycling via a chemical process is an example: a lot of people are thinking chemical recycling is just the use of plastic materials to generate a limited amount of energy in a one-time process, destroying them rather than giving them another material use. This is the furthest thing from what depolymerization is, where we can go from waste to monomers and then again to polymers in an infinite loop.

About Fabio Silvestri
10+ years of national and international experience in R&D, product development and innovation, with a strong passion for organic chemistry. Experience in different industries (i.e. automotive, footwear, insulation, pharma), always with the idea to create value for both the company and the client/customer. If you are a big company or an early-stage startup, you must have in mind that it is not just a matter of finding proper technical solutions, but also how to put them in place.

About gr3n SA
gr3n developed a revolutionary chemical process to recycle post-consumer waste from several types of PET products (like bottles, food containers, and polyester clothes) in a closed-loop cycle, obtaining as output pure terephthalic acid (TPA) and mono ethylene glycol (MEG) that currently feed the PET production cycle.

Fabio Silvestri is speaker at the 2022 edition of the Materials 4 Sustainable Fashion Conference.

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