Recycled Cotton

Recycled cotton is cotton made from reused from pre-consumer (post-industrial) or post-consumer cotton waste. Pre-consumer waste comes from any excess material created during the steps of material and product manufacturing, e.g. selvage from weaving, fabric from factory cutting rooms, or excess production and unsold items that might normally be disposed of as waste. Post-consumer waste comes from household resources, e.g. used apparel or home textile products. When recycled, the waste is first separated by type and color then placed into stripping machines that break the fabric into pieces. Fibers are then pulled apart and the mixture is carded several times to clean and mix the fibers before being respun into new yarns.1 This results in short staple fibers, in a range of sizes and qualities that cannot easily be respun. Consequently, the fibers are fed into open end spinning, or may get blended with longer staple virgin fibers or synthetic fibers to improve yarn strength and spinability. As the waste is already dyed, the yarn made from this fiber will be colored as well and may not need to be redyed. Post-industrial waste, particularly waste from spinning mills, needs to be considered with care. Indeed, much of the spinning waste generated in these operations is transferred from one process into the feed stock of another; for example ring spinning waste will either be fed into the open end spinning line which can handle shorter staple length or be sent back to the beginning of the chain and reincorporated in the bale opening process. This is standard practice in most spinning mills. It makes a lot of sense from resource utilization, waste minimization, and economic perspectives. However, this waste would never have entered the solid waste stream, and hence, should not be called “recycled’. Cutting room waste would typically be sold off as scrap or sent to landfill and can be recycled. Post-consumer cotton waste coming from household resources tends to be recycled into lower quality and non-visible products such nonwovens and felts for applications in car insulation, roofing felt, loudspeaker cones, fillings, etc. Garment-to-garment solutions are indeed complex and costly to develop. This is related to the fact that color and composition separation at the beginning of the process is a labor-intensive operation that is not financially viable in all economies. There is, however, increasingly more research for recycling textile waste into new textiles, closing the loop, and automating the sorting process thanks to Infrared technology.2,3 Much still needs to be done with process innovation, but the first commercial developments in recent history have just hit the market.