Recycling options for non-wearable textiles

The used and recycled textile market is a highly volatile and low-margin market, which leads to much uncertainty on the revenues which are earned. Diversification of outlet channels for the collected textiles could significantly mitigate these financial risks. Sympany asked the WUR Science Shop to help them find the answers; “How can they make non-reusable textile categories as sustainable as possible and economically viable ?

Sympany is a non-profit textile collection and recycling organization, which aims to maximize textile re-use and recycling. Each year, Sympany collects about 25 million kg of used textiles, which are separated into re-usable and recyclable qualities and then sold.

At the same time, both internal and external stakeholders expect Sympany to become a circular company, to increase its re-use/recycling rates and apply the textiles in more high-value and sustainable applications.

Because of these developments, an analysis into alternative recycling and valorization options could present new opportunities to Sympany.

Currently, Sympany separates 10% of the collected textiles in facility in Assen. The remainder is sent to the Baltic States in order to be separated in a large facility managed by Humana. From these separation facilities, 5 non-rewearable textile streams remain which cannot be re-used and are currently downcycled in applications of low-value. In order to increase the circularity of the collected textiles, the research should provide guidance into which recycling options are available for these 5 categories of non-rewearable textiles. In determining the best recycling options, the 4R hierarchy (reduce, re-use, recycle, recover) will be taken into account.

So the main research question is: How can the mentioned 5 non-rewearable textile categories be recycled as sustainably as possible and preferably in high-value applications, but at the same time in a scale-able and economically viable way?