Textile Waste Recycling through Enzymatic Fiber Separation (WasteExpo 2023)

June 15, 2023

Most discarded textiles end up in landfills but don’t readily degrade, accounting for 8% of annual municipal solid waste in the U.S. The value of these waste textiles has steadily increased as portions of the textile industry push to make more clothes from recycled materials. These waste fabrics are estimated to be worth $10.5 billion annually. However, recycling options are limited due to the highly variable waste stream, consisting of many different fiber types and chemical additives like dyes or finishes.

Presented here is a methodology that introduces one pathway for textile circularity through enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulosic textiles. Using cellulase enzymes, 100% cotton fabric pieces were degraded into valuable waste fractions that have use in composites, as feedstock for anaerobic digestion, or as feedstock for fermentation into biofuels. An emphasis was placed on degrading realistic textile waste, including fabrics that have been dyed or finished. In addition to 100% cotton fabrics, a 50/50 polyester/cotton blended fabric was tested. This session will include details on this methodology and potential findings thus far.

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