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World first in textile recycling

Project Re:claim has unveiled plans for the first commercial-scale, post-consumer polyester recycling plant
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Industrial warping and sizing machine in textile factory

Polyester textiles have been successfully recycled back into raw material as part of a joint venture between the UK’s largest charity textile collector and a leading corporate wear producer.
Project Re:claim – a joint venture between corporate wear specialists Project Plan B and Salvation Army Trading Company Ltd (SATCoL), the trading arm of the charity – has unveiled plans for the first commercial-scale, post-consumer polyester recycling plant.

Recycling clothes

Project Plan B developed the exclusive polyester recycling system, which is based on plastic bottle recycling.

The Salvation Army Trading Company Ltd (SATCoL) will install the machine at one of its processing centres, which already sorts and processes around 65,000 tonnes of donated textiles every year.

‘We need a seismic change in how garments are designed and produced. Polyester textile recycling is one of the biggest opportunities to reduce the harmful impact of producing garments and this new technology is the first proven commercial-scale system that has been designed to cope with the challenges of recycling post-consumer clothing.’

CEO at Project Plan B

End-of-life polyester

This new plant will recycle around 2,500 tonnes in its first year, rising to 5,000 tonnes in year two. The aim is to recycle polyester that has come to the end of its useful life.

The technology creates polyester pellets, which it has successfully used to produce the first yarn.

The new technology will be installed at SATCoL’s Processing Centre based in Kettering in September.

SATCoL cannot rely on clothing bank donations alone; in order to maximise the volume and potential of the polyester recycling, it is searching for corporate partners to commit to donating 100% polyester textiles now.

‘The future of fashion’

SATCoL already has the UK’s only automated textile sorting facility, Fibersort. Based at the charity’s purpose-built Processing Centre in Kettering, Fibersort automatically identifies and sorts second-hand textiles by fibre type and is the first step in textile-to-textile recycling.

This additional new technology is the next step towards SATCoL’s ambition to create the UK’s first fibre farm, with the aim of massively scaling up textile-to-textile recycling of all types of materials. This presents a huge opportunity for the fashion circular economy.

‘Last year SATCoL enabled reuse and recycling of over 250 million products but there are always items which are too damaged and we cannot resell and they are often garments made from polyester.

‘With this new technology we can give these clothes a new lease of life. So when your favourite jumper is worn-out, we will take it and turn it into polyester pellets, ready to be turned back into a new jumper. This is the future of fashion.

‘Our vision is to enable companies to produce corporate wear and fashion garments using recycled polyester. The incredible vision of Project Plan B has brought about the development of the technology, we have the infrastructure to collect donations at scale and we now need companies to step up.

‘This is an opportunity for companies to make a commitment to significantly reduce their environmental impact. In preparation for full production, we are currently seeking 100% polyester textiles such as used hotel linen or post-event promotional banners.’

Head of Environment & Sustainability at SATCoL

Why recycle polyester?

The greatest environmental impact of garments is in the production phase, and currently only 1% of textiles consumed in the UK are recycled.

The UK produces over half a million tonnes of polyester textile waste every year, and over 300,000 tonnes of clothing is put in household bins annually.

A tonne of new polyester clothing creates over 20 tonnes CO2e/T.

Currently no textile polyester recycling systems in the UK. The only option is to landfill or to burn this type of plastic waste textiles.

The average life of a workwear uniform is two years, so corporate wear is a key target area for Project Re:claim. Currently no worn post-consumer polyester textiles are being recycled 

As well as the environmental benefits – such as diverting unwearable textiles away from landfill and incineration – the Project Re:claim pellets use almost 10 times less energy compared with pellets made from virgin polyester (11% energy used to produce recycled pellets compared with pellets produced from virgin polyester).

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