Researchers develop polyester extraction and reuse method

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) researchers have developed a treatment to extract and reuse polyester from polyester/wool mix fabrics.

Through extraction and reuse, the researchers hope to divert some of the 92 million tonnes of textiles sent to landfill each year.

QUT Institute for Future Environments faculty Robert Speight and Laura Navone found that a commercial enzyme dissolves wool fibres from polyester and wool mix fabrics, without damaging the polyester strands.

“Recycled polyester is a valuable tradable commodity,” Prof Speight said.

“The polyester extracted from fabric can be made into polyester chips and turned into anything from yarn for new textiles to playground equipment.”

Prof Speight said the value of recycled polyester has gone up significantly in recent years, and gives clothing manufacturers a marketing advantage when 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,” he said.

Prof Speight said the next phase was to partner with recycling companies to scale and commercialise the process.

QUT Co-researcher Associate Professor Alice Payne 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,” Prof Payne said.

According to Prof Payne, polyester is incorporated in much of the 80-150 billion items of clothing made each year.

“Separating and reusing polyester is part of the drive to prevent waste in the fashion industry,” she said.

“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.”

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