Preparation to recycling: the better you start, the better you recycle!

Materials and Products

The interest for an environmentally sustainable production brought both industry and research to invest their efforts to a critical aspect like how to recover end-of-life products and materials. Among the possible recovery approaches, recycling is probably the most studied and used but another fundamental aspect is often underrated: the preparation to recycling, that process materials with the aim of optimize and maximize the recycling results.

Nowadays, end-of-life textile materials and products recovery it is relevant for the environmental sustainability of production processes. Possibility to create new products, or just a new raw material, starting from a textile waste is one of the most effective approaches, allowing to reduce waste production and raw materials consumptions.

The identification of the most correct recycling process is fundamental to get good results: the choice of mechanical, chemical, or thermal recycling it is up to different factors, such as the material chemical and physical properties, which kind of second life is intended for the material, and economic and technological aspects of the processes. But also waste preparation to recycling is an element that must be considered and not underrated. Preparation is a set of operations that make material more recyclable and so it maximizes the recycling process efficacy. Textile waste is intrinsically nonhomogeneous in terms of fibre composition, type of fabrics, presence of non-textile accessories, presence of chemical treatments. This reduces material recyclability and can also make it not recyclable, so it is important prepare material in order to obtain more homogenous batches, separate or remove non-recyclable elements and remove (or at least reduce), chemicals. It is possible to identify three specific preparation processes:

  • Sorting, with the aim to create homogenous batches starting from nonhomogeneous ones. It is based on the separation of textiles by their fibre composition and colour, but it can work also on other characteristics such as the presence of surface chemical treatments (e.g., flame retardant, water repellent, etc.). Sorting was originally a manual process, but thanks to spectroscopic analysis, it can now be automated.
  • Cleaning, aimed to remove chemicals like contaminants (coming from material and so unwanted) and treatments made to confer a specific function to textile. Chemicals can negatively affect recycling process efficacy or invalidate it. Today, chemical process (based on both chemical and physical action) is deeply studied since it can be able to significantly increase materials recyclability and their possible second life scenarios.
  • Disassembling, that is useful in particular for complex and multi-elements products (e.g., Personal Protective Equipment, electronic smart textiles, etc.). This process dismounts a product into its single components thus creating homogeneous “sub-batches” that are easier to recycle with specific process on the base of their nature. Even if it was a manual process, today disassembling is evolving to automation also thanks to robotics.

 

The implementation of a correct preparation processes is a crucial point of the recycling technology, and it allows to enhance materials and products recovery and to maximize its efficacy and the quality of the final recycled product.

 

 

For more info, please contact:

  • Omar Maschi, PhD

Multisectoral Research and Innovation

e-mail: omar.maschi@centrocot.it

Author: Omar Maschi

multisectoral Research and Innovation Dept.