Automated sorting: key to achieving a textile circular economy
Sorting textiles according to the various types of fibers they contain requires a high degree of precision. It is currently done manually, but the result doesn’t meet the requirements of recycling companies and the fashion industry. As a result, only a small quantity of discarded textiles is recycled and the potential for increasing it is enormous. The SIPTex project is exploring how to achieve the required quality through automation.
Testing the technology on textiles
The plant in Malmö is the third phase in the SIPTex project, and follows an initial theoretical study and, in phase two, the construction of a small pilot plant in Avesta, also designed and supplied by TOMRA and STADLER in 2017. In this second phase, the project collected 700 tonnes of used textiles from recycling centers. Following a manual pre-sorting of reusable textiles, the waste material was fed into the Avesta pilot plant.
The main objective was to test the equipment’s capability to sort the textiles and identify any changes or optimizations to the process that may be required. “As automated textile sorting had never been done before, we were facing a challenging task we could only overcome by joining forces. Thus, we relied on our longstanding and close partnership with STADLER and our both expertise and equipment. For the Avesta pilot we supplied AUTOSORT® NIR VIS sorter, then four more for the Malmö plant”, explains László Székely, VP Head of Plastic Applications at TOMRA.
The world’s first fully-automated textile sorting plant
The automated textile sorting plant in Malmö has a capacity of up to 4.5 tonnes/hour in one line. The incoming material is delivered in bales, typically weighting 350 to 500 kg. It includes pre- and post-consumer waste. The former consists of dry, industrial waste from textile producers such as clippings, yarn and rejects. The latter is made up of clothing and household textiles, which include unsorted material from separate collection from sources such as recycling centers, and manually pre-sorted and industrial waste from textile leasing and rental services. The material is sorted whole and may contain buttons, zippers and other non-textile parts.