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Australian researchers find way to extract polyester from mixed fabrics

QUT researchers have found a treatment to extract and reuse polyester from polyester/wool mix fabrics.

By extracting this material, the researchers hope it could help minimise the 92 million tonnes of textiles heading to landfill each year.

Professor Robert Speight and Dr Laura Navone found that a commercial enzyme dissolves wool fibres from polyester and wool mix fabrics, without damaging the polyester strands.

Speight said that the polyester extracted from fabric can be made into polyester chips and turned into anything from yarn for new textiles to playground equipment.

“Recycled polyester is a valuable tradable commodity.

“The value of recycled polyester has gone up significantly and gives clothing manufacturers a massive marketing advantage to be able to claim recycled material. Adidas, for example, has committed to using only recycled plastic by 2024 which includes polyester – contributing to the demand for recycled polyester,” Speight said.

The next phase is to partner with recycling companies to take the process to kilogram scale and understand more about the process design for commercial use and the economics.

Co researcher Associate Professor Alice Payne, from QUT School of Design said Australians send 500,000 tonnes of textiles to landfill every year.

“Australians discard an estimated $140 million worth of clothes each year with an average lifetime of three months for each item.

“Polyester is incorporated in much of the 80-150 billion items of clothing made each year. It is favoured on its own or incorporated with natural fibres like cotton or wool because it is durable, light weight, easy-care with anti-wrinkle properties,” Payne said.

She explained that these properties make it the fabric of choice for uniforms in industries such as banking, aviation and health.

“Separating and reusing polyester is part of the drive to prevent waste in the fashion industry. Other ways to prevent waste is to use clothing longer, buy second hand rather than new, and circulate, lend, borrow, repair, upcycle or resell no longer wanted clothing,” Payne said.