Next Technology Tecnotessile (NTT), a public/private research organization located in Prato, Italy, is at the forefront of sustainable textile practices and the circular economy. As one of Europe’s largest and most essential textile districts, NTT has built a robust international network of collaborations with industrial giants, universities, and research centres. Their mission is clear: to develop knowledge and innovative solutions that facilitate technological transfer and enhance the competitiveness of companies, all while addressing the urgent need for sustainable textile practices and a circular economy.
As it stands today, the textile industry leaves a significant environmental footprint, from the cultivation of natural fibres to the production of synthetic fibres and finished fabrics, and finally, to the disposal of post-consumer items. A pivotal solution to mitigate this environmental impact is fibre-to-fibre recycling, which breathes new life into textile waste by transforming it into fresh fibres for the creation of new garments and textile products. Astonishingly, less than 1% of discarded fabrics find their way back into new fabrics; the rest end up in landfills or are incinerated.
Group photo of Next Technology Tecnotessile, photo taken from Intoscana.it
Yet, fibre-to-fibre recycling is no easy feat. Challenges arise from mixed fibres and impurities that hinder the recycling process. Recognizing the potential of textile waste to be transformed into a valuable resource, NTT has developed two groundbreaking technologies.
First, NTT’s textile waste sorting system, driven by Near Infrared sensors and a Hyperspectral camera, allows for the precise selection of multi-blended fibres based on colour, chemical composition, and fabric structure. This technology enables fabrics and garments to be sorted with meticulous criteria, preparing them for the subsequent recycling process.
Furthermore, NTT has pioneered a technology that conquers a significant obstacle to fibre-to-fibre recycling: the presence of elastane in natural and synthetic fabrics. Elastane fibres, while providing elasticity, have traditionally posed challenges for recycling. NTT’s solution relies on a closed-cycle solvent system that selectively removes up to 96% of the elastomeric part from bicomponent textiles, dispersing the elastane into the solvent. This innovative process is applicable to a range of fabric matrices, including polyamide, polyester, cotton, and wool, even when they contain elastomer percentages as high as 10-15% w/w. The result is a fabric with a high degree of purity, ready to be recycled through the fibre-to-fibre process.
In conclusion, NTT’s contributions are instrumental in driving the textile industry towards a sustainable and circular future. Their innovative technologies for sorting textile waste and removing elastane from fabrics exemplify their commitment to reducing the industry’s environmental footprint while fostering a more sustainable, circular, and resource-efficient textile ecosystem. As we celebrate Circular Textile Day, we recognize NTT’s pivotal role in advancing these critical objectives, offering hope for a greener and more sustainable textile industry in the years to come.
Want to learn more about World CircularTextile Day? Click here.
Big thanks to Cinzia Lazzarini, NTT, for the blogpost.