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World first breakthrough in textile recycling unveiled

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 is a joint venture between corporate wear specialists Project Plan B and Salvation Army Trading Company Ltd (SATCoL), the trading arm of the charity, and has unveiled plans for the first commercial scale, post consumer polyester recycling plant.

Project Plan B developed the exclusive polyester recycling system which is based on plastic bottle recycling. SATCoL will install the machine at one of its processing centres, which already sort and process around 65,000 tonnes of donated textiles every year.

Tim Cross, CEO at Project Plan B, said: ‘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.’

This new plant will recycle around 2500 tonnes in its first year, rising to 5000 tonnes in year two, and aims to recycle polyester that has come to the end of its useful life. The technology creates polyester pellets and has successfully produced the first yarn from these.

Majonne Frost, head of environment and sustainability at SATCoL, said: ‘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.’

The new technology will be installed at SATCoL’s processing centre in Kettering in September. To maximise the volume and potential of the polyester recycling, the charity cannot rely on clothing bank donations alone, so is searching for corporate partners to commit to donating 100% polyester textiles now.

Majonne continued, ‘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.’

SATCoL already has the UK’s only automated textile sorting facility, Fibersort. Based at the charity’s purpose built 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 its 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.

Did you know…

  • The average life of a workwear uniform is two years, so corporate wear is a key target area of Project Re:claim.

  • The greatest environmental impact of garments is in the production phase, and currently only 1% of textiles consumed in the UK are recycled. (Ellen McArthur foundation).

  • The UK produces over half a million tonnes of polyester textile waste every year; and over 300,000 tonnes of clothing is disposed of in household bins each year (WRAP).

  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or polyester, is the most common thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family and is used in fibres for clothing, containers for liquids and foods, and thermoforming for manufacturing

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

  • A tonne of new polyester clothing creates over 20 tonnes CO2e per tonne.

  • Currently no worn post consumer polyester textiles are being recycled

  • Polyester is a growing fraction in the textiles waste – and is a finite fossil resource.

  • There is also no current market for textile rPET – the project will demonstrate different markets for textile rPET – new yarns and other products such as injection moulded products and markets with advantages in use.

  • The Project Re:claim technology is a thermomechanical recycling process Thermo Mechanical Extrusion Recycler (TMER) machine. It will recycle polyester garments, and other manufacturing offcuts textiles into rPET pellets made from textiles

  • 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 (UAL).


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