Why is it so difficult to recycle woven textiles?

Our inability to deal with textile waste is quite evident. Less than 1% of textiles worldwide are recycled into new woven fabrics. Why is it so difficult to recycle textile products?

Recycling textiles

The recycling of textile fabric materials is mainly “under-recycling”: i.e. recycling a textile material into a non-woven textile product of lower value, such as padding for a coating to make insulating fleeces or rags.

 It is necessary for consumers to be aware of this reality and we must find commitments together, to provide an outlet for products that in the short term will contribute to the implementation of circularity.

No one can ignore the fact that the process of circularity incurs costs, and that these must be covered by all the players involved.

The process of “recycling” from one woven product to another woven textile product is hampered by the widespread use of woven textiles with a wide variety of fibre compositions, the inclusion of non-recyclable materials (such as elastane), dyes and other finishing which are not recycling-compatible. In the case of technical fabrics, there are several different fabric compositions such as cotton, polyamides, viscose, modacrylics, aramids, carbon fibres, polyester, elastane, etc.

In addition, the recycling process itself generates a technical challenge: the low quality of the recycled fibres obtained, which are not suitable to be recycled into new fibres and fabrics.


Types of textile material recycling

There are currently two main recycling options for textiles: mechanical and chemical recycling.

Mechanical recycling

This consists of the breaking of woven textiles to obtain a new flock or fabric flock. This mechanical process shortens the textile fibres and consequently reduces their mechanical properties. This is why we previously mentioned the low quality of recycled fibres. If we want to preserve the original properties, we have no choice but to mix recycled fibres with pure fibres for achieving similar performances as the originally woven textiles.

Chemical recycling

Chemical recycling has huge energetic and GHG emission impacts. It is thought to have less impact on the original properties of textile fibres and can focus on the recovery of specific fibres.

At OROEL we are committed to the circular economy and we are working on three pioneering worldwide projects that would contribute to increasing the know-how and developing solutions for the recovery of technical textile fabrics.