(Nanowerk News) Manufacture, wear, wash, incinerate: this typical life cycle of clothes, which pollutes the environment, must be changed in the future – towards circular economy principles with recycling at its heart. Using an outdoor jacket made from PET bottles and recycled materials, Empa researchers examined whether the product actually delivered on its promises.
At first glance, it’s a normal rain jacket: three layers of polyester, a lining on the inside, a water vapor permeable membrane on the top and a water-repellent fabric on the outside, with a hood. But the zipper makes you think. Instead of ending at the height of the collar, it goes up to the foreheadâ¦ – who would pull it there?
The explanation is given by Annette Mark of the textile manufacturer BTK Europe, who contributed to this product. The zipper is meant to attract attention – and is primarily intended for recycling: sewn tight with a thread that dissolves in boiling water, it’s easier to remove than two zip ties.
âPull once and you’re done,â says the textiles and recycling expert. The light green color is also due to recycling: the raw material, a granule made from a mixture of different textiles but one variety, is dark green – and the melting and spinning of the material for new yarns l ‘clear up.
The circular economy in the textile industry
Magnetic buttons, seams, hems: every detail of the jacket follows the Design2Recycle approach, as it says on the Wear2wear website. Six companies from the European textile industry have joined together in this consortium to promote the circular economy. After all, more than 70 percent of all textiles produced worldwide end up in landfills or incinerators without being recycled.
How to achieve a circular economy in this industry? A team from Empa’s Technology and Society laboratory took a closer look at the jacket and its environmental impact using life cycle analyzes over a four-year period of use; including washing it three times. The candidates: a jacket produced without circular economy methods, the “starter version” of the jacket available since 2019 in blue – with an outer layer of polyester from used PET bottles – and the green version from the subsequent recycling process , in which the inevitable losses of material are replaced by new polyester.
Researchers’ analyzes show that recycled products work better – in eleven categories of environmental risks, including global warming, toxicity to ecosystems and water scarcity. The advantages are striking in air pollution, for example, as less pollutants are released without incineration, as well as in the scarcity of water, especially for the green jacket after the first recycling “loop” for which PET bottles are no longer used.
Other lessons learned: In terms of the greenhouse effect, the maximum benefit is 30 percent. And the use of PET bottles does not bring major ecological benefits. What is decisive, however, is the number of recycling cycles to produce new jackets: The balance improves from jacket to jacket – provided the quality of the polyester remains high enough.
In practice, this is a challenge, as Mark explains: âDepending on the origin, the raw material sometimes differs considerably. If the fibers have been coated with certain additives, the nozzles of the spinning machines may become clogged. And in general, the quality decreases with the number of recycling cycles: more irregular structures of the yarn and less resistance.
Annette Mark’s conclusion on Empa’s analyzes: “very realistic” and useful for improvements. “The cooperation has been very good,” she said, “full transparency and no compromises.” The researchers also found the collaboration fruitful. âOpen collaboration between science and industry is extremely important,â says former team member Gregor Braun, who has since left Empa and now works as a sustainability consultant. âSustainability and the circular economy can work well together. ”
Will the jacket become a commercial success? âThe textile industry is in upheaval. An overhaul is underway that should not be missed, âsays Annette Mark. But large companies that are already developing similar products “have completely different options.” After all, discussions are ongoing with a sportswear manufacturer – for a fleece jacket, for which Empa’s findings could also be useful.