The environmental impact of the textile industry’s linear economic model is characterised by short utilisation phases, poor reuse rates and reparability, and a low fibre-to-fibre recycling rate. The recovery processes and secondary raw materials perspective is dedicated to finding solutions to address the real-life challenges and chances faced by designers dealing with secondary raw materials and recovery processes. Their work is based on the premise that, by replacing conventional raw materials with recycling materials, the textile industry can avoid a significant share of its emissions. As an applied research group, we see the vision of an infinite circular raw material supply and the ethical obligation of industrial nations to process their waste responsibly. This vision offers chances for designers to act as mediators who communicate between processes.
Used textiles and textile waste are a modern phenomenon and common problem within highly industrialised societies. By contrast, societies in the early modern period had a “recycling mentality”. Recycling and reusing materials were part of their culture and considered economically essential practices for a majority of the population.1 Due to the advent of large-scale mass production and consumption after WWII and the accelerating fashion cycles of the late 20th century, society is now forced to grapple with growing amounts of used textiles.2
Thanks to the emergence of circular practices in which waste is considered a new resource, the value of used textiles is currently increasing amid an upswing in demand.3 . In addition to the principles of share, repair and remanufacture, the recycling process—as a final option before biological recycling—is an important element within a cascading circular economy (in this case, with a special focus on textiles4)5. From a design and industry perspective, this opens a field of action of major significance. In this context, the term “recycling” is defined by the reintroduction and feeding of old textiles and textile waste into the manufacturing process of consumer goods and their material reprocessing. These include textile industrial waste in the shape of fibres, yarns, remnants, production cuttings (post-industrial-waste), unworn or unused textile products (pre-consumer-waste) and old clothing items (post-consumer-waste).6 There are three main technical processes for the processing of textile waste: material recycling (fibre recovery), chemical recycling (recovery of chemical base materials) and thermal recycling (recovery of energy used in the production process).7 These processes are embedded in a process chain that constitutes textile-industrial recycling. It encompasses the collection, sorting, processing and resale of used textiles and their further processing as cleaning rags, teared fibres, insulation materials and recycling yarns.8 To date, the individual processes are typically very labour, cost and energy intensive. To ensure the quality of the subsequent process stages, the textiles must be sorted by specific criteria (state, type, material, technique, colour). In addition to the increasingly inferior quality of textile waste, the industry’s habit of using mixed materials for their functional properties and comparative cheapness is one of the main challenges for today’s recycling technologies.9 There is an urgent need to develop managed end-of-life (EOL) solutions for closed technological and biological cycles in alignment with adequate recovery processes.
The recovery and secondary raw materials perspective of the Product and Textile research group includes the examination of the recycling processes of textiles and other fibre-based materials described above as well as the production and use of secondary raw materials. The objective is to counter the steadily growing production of new fibres by developing recycled materials with which to substitute them in part or fully. Combined with functional, aesthetic and economic aspects, the focus should be on value preservation using recycled textiles that were produced in an environmentally friendly process.
As a part of the global textile sector, the recovery and secondary raw materials group aims to use applied and transdisciplinary methods to contribute to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 10 With its Eco Design Requirements directive11, , the EU is creating a regulatory framework until 2026 that is designed to improve the ecological impact of products. The binding design requirements for sustainable and recyclable products and textiles to be introduced in the framework of this directive give an impulse for a paradigm change towards sustainable design alternatives.
The group’s methodological approach unites process design and “material-driven design"12 at a micro and macro level13. This includes the development of market feasibility studies and explorative experiments on a laboratory scale as well as proof-of-concepts using prototypes in collaboration with industry partners. Applying iterative processes to real-life use cases, the feasibility is tested and meta visions are made experiencable and communicable. The role of design is considered to be the undisputed starting point for recycling practices14.
The design research community aims to discuss a new understanding of the role of design within the textile value chain. Assuming our extended responsibility in terms of environmental impact requires a holistic perspective as well as up-to-date skills and materials and process know-how.15 This includes, for instance, examining the chances and opportunities of cascading and regional recycling streams and substantiating the environmental impact of current and future recycling practices. To promote a favourable view of recycling among users and producers alike, approaches must be developed that envision new processes and a new recycling aesthetic while improving the acceptance of secondary raw materials. The research group also investigates and develops new design-based methods and technologies to deal with inconsistencies in e.g., amount, material composition and colour.
Authors: Brigitt Egloff, Joel Hügli, Florence Schöb, Tina Tomovic, Benjamin Willi
1 While most people think of recycling as a method of waste processing that has emerged during the environmental modernisation of the 1970s, when environmental awareness and policy first entered our lexicon, the term was coined in the 1920s by the oil and gas industry which systematically recycled its oil and crack residues. However, the thinking behind it dates back much further. For many centuries, trading in used materials—notably, the rag trade—kept no longer used or needed items and materials in circulation, which constituted an early form of recycling in the large European cities of the 19th century. Cf. e.g., Barles (2005) or Trischler (2016).
2 The Swiss textile production in 2019 was 15,880 t, which in turn produced a total of 1,505 t of post-industrial waste. According to the FOEN, some 50,000 t of old clothes (including textile imports) are collected annually in Switzerland. In this context, the Ellen McArthur Foundation quantifies the rate at which used textiles are recycled or upcycled into new, high-value textiles at under 1% (Ellen McArthur Foundation (2017), A new Textiles Economy).
3 Stahel 2016.
4 The Products and Textiles research group’s specialist skills are predominantly in the fields of textiles and textile-adjacent materials. However, other materials suitable for recycling might be considered as well in their research.
5 Sumter 2021.
6 Sandvik/Stubbs 2019.
7 Wulfhorst/Gries et al. 2015, 442-456. Also note the Sandin’S (2028) deliberations on the subject: she points out the inadequately terminology to delineate recycling processes and proposes to differentiate between them by degree of dissolution.
8 http://www.bvse.de/themen/geschichte-des-textilrecycling/der-weg-von-der-sammlung-zur-wiederverwendung.html, [retrieved: 28 February 2022].
9 Particularly worrying are the effects of the most ubiquitous of fibrous materials, polyester. According to “Textile Exchange 2021”, 57 million tonnes were produced in 2020, making up about 52% of the world’s total fibre production. Textilexchange 2021, https://textileexchange.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Textile-Exchange_Preferred-Fiber-and-Materials-Market-Report_2021.pdf, [retrieved: 28 June 2022]
10 Here, the “Recycling” aspect focuses on the SDG’s goals 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation and 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
11 COM (2022) 142 final.
12 Karana 2015.
13 Latour 2006.
14 Referring to Goldsworthy (2014), Veelaert et al. (2017) and Maris et al. (2014), Hall (2021) identifies three discrete design principles within recycling: “Design for Cyclability” ensures a product’s recyclability upon its EOL, “Design from Recycling” uses secondary raw materials and “Design for Recycling” combines both principles.
15 Both Hall (2021) and Karell (2019) describe the need for a new understanding of roles.
Barles, S. (2005),History of Waste Management and the Social and Cultural Representations of Waste., in: WORLD ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY, Available from: https://www.eolss.net/ebooklib/sc_cart.aspx?File=E6-156-16-00 [retrieved 7 July 2022]
EMF, Ellen MacArthur Foundation. (2017). A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future. [pdf] Retrieved July 15, 2022, from https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/A-New-Textiles-Economy_Full-Report.pdf, [Stand:07.07.2022]
European Commission (2022), establishing a framework for setting ecodesign requirements for sustainable products and repealing Directive 2009/125/EC, COM(2022) 142 final, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/DE/HIS/?uri=COM:2022:142:FIN [retrieved 7 July 2022]
Hall, C., 2022, Design for Recycling Knitwear, a framework for sorting, blending and cascading in the mechanical textile recycling industry, University of the Arts London, Centre for Circular Design, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/357335007_Design_for_Recycling_Knitwear_a_framework_for_sorting_blending_and_cascading_in_the_mechanical_textile_recycling_industry, [retrieved 25 August 2022]
Karana, E., Barati, B., Rognoli, V., & Zeeuw van der Laan, A. (2015). Material driven design (MDD): A method to design for material experiences. International Journal of Design, 9(2), 35-54. (PDF) Material Driven Design (MDD): A Method to Design for Material Experiences. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/277311821_Material_Driven_Design_MDD_A_Method_to_Design_for_Material_Experiences#fullTextFileContent [retrieved 12 November 2022].
Karell, E., Niinimäki, K. (2019): Adressing the dialoque between design, sorting and recycling in a circular economy, in: the Design Journal 22(sup1): 997-1013, DOI: 10.1080/14606925.2019.1595413.
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Sandvik, I.M. and Stubbs, W. (2019), "Circular fashion supply chain through textile-to-textile recycling", Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, Vol. 23 No. 3, pp. 366-381. https://doi.org/10.1108/JFMM-04-2018-0058
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Stahel, W., (2016), The circular economy. Nature 531, 435–438. https://doi.org/10.1038/531435a
Sumter, D.; de Koning, J.; Bakker, C.; Balkenende, R. Circular Economy Competencies for Design. In: Sustainability 2020, 12, 1561. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12041561
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