If you recycle it, you print it! End-of-Life textiles as 3D printing material.

Materials and Products

End-of-Life textiles virtuous recycling represents at best a challenge, at worst a real problem. In addition to the logistical, regulatory, and technological problems, it is often not clear in which kind of product a textile can be turned to valorise it following an up-cycling path. In this contest, a help can come from additive manufacturing technology, in particular from fused deposition modelling 3D printing, where a synthetic textile material can become the raw material do be used.

The fundamental role played by recycling in the circular economy game is now well known and established. The possibility to take a material or product that reached the end of its (first) life and turn it into something usable again represents a virtuous path to the creation of a more environmentally sustainable manufacturing systems, since waste production and natural resources consumption are reduced. Recycling is now a well-established practice for materials like glass, plastic, metal, and paper but recently also textile is becoming an object of interest for recycling, also as results of strong social and legislative pressures. However, textile recycling can represent a hard challenge due to technological, regulatory, and socials gaps. Many steps forward have been made on the road towards virtuous textile recycling but if we want to find a still rather weak point, it can be found in the poor enhancement of the materials and products that originate from textile recycling and therefore in the difficulty to implement a real up-cycling.

For synthetic textiles (e.g., polyester, polyamide, polypropylene), however, it is possible to think to a relatively new way for their recycling valorisation. Since they are thermoplastics, these materials can undergo a thermal process which bring them back to a fused or semi-fused state which can be followed by a new extrusion process, similarly to what is already a common practice for plastics. This new process can be done to produce a continuous filament useful for the particular additive manufacturing (AM) processes that are based on the deposition of a fused filament (Fused Deposition Modelling FDM). With this technology is possible to create, by a layer-by-layer additive deposition process, objects of various shapes and sizes. If usually virgin polymers are used as raw material to create the filaments for FDM processes, lately several manufacturers are investigating the use of recycled materials. End-of-life synthetic textile could therefore represent a potential material stream useful for 3D printing filaments production, opening to a virtuous path of material circularity, turning a textile waste into a new functional object. Textiles have potential intrinsic criticalities, such as a mixed chemical composition, dyes, finishings, and other chemical treatments that can affect not only the filament production but also the printed objects properties. Hence the need to investigate and test this possible recycling way through research, development, and prototyping on laboratory or pilot scale.

Starting from this, Centrocot has expanded its equipment and technical-scientific skills to experiment in its laboratories the possibility to recycle textiles turning them into 3D printing filaments that are used to create objects by FDM. These industrial research and experimentation activities will ultimately be able to confirm and validate the effectiveness of this virtuous path for recovery, recycle and valorisation of end-of-life textiles.



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.