by Alice Beyer Schuch – Feb/2017
Only 5 years have gone since I have read that “chemical methods [of recycling] are suited only to synthetic fibres” 
After that, I have been researching and following the development of the industry in this direction. And, even though there are only few players around – I could mention 9 studies/names – we can say they are doing an interesting work, partnering with big players and building structures across different stakeholders to get the job done…
Because one thing is to have it proven in laboratory scale – what in fact was presented in 2012 by re:newcell, and another thing is to bring it to an industrial scale – what has been recently presented by Lenzing Refibra®.
The possibility of life extension of cellulosic textiles/materials is, definitely, exciting – and I say materials because in some processes, even paper can be used on the manufacture of a new regenerated textile fibre! I understand the tremendous impact in water usage, dependency of primary natural resources, arable land needs, low human and terrestrial toxicity, landfilling and waste reduction… But I would still miss the disclosure of some (other) information, such as:
- the input material is a possibly locally sourced clean biodegradable fabric. If not…
- any contaminants (other-life’s pesticides, hazardous dye stuff, diverse composition) are set apart properly, and…
- it faces no prior unsustainable bleaching processes.
- the input material also doesn’t go through any hazardous process to adjust its viscosity to the proper range for the spinning process.
- chemicals are safe/used in closed loops;
- water streams are not contaminated/excessively needed;
- energy needs are in a fair level/from sustainable grids;
- output fibre receives sustainable finishing (ex. to deal with fibrillation);
- the result is a clean biodegradable fabric; and maybe…
- it could be re-recycled.
Specifically, about this last topic, just as information, there are differences between cellulose I from nature and cellulose II from regenerated methods. The structure of the molecule and its connections suffer a change when processed – which after regeneration are in the lowest level for spinning. So, it would be unlikely the use of 100% rCO again and again as a unique raw material for the re-regenerating process. In fact, the addition of sources with higher chain connections (wood/cotton) to basically every (re)process should always be considered.
And although the possibility of chemically recycling cotton scraps represents a very important step, it is by no means a perfect solution (think about the mechanical recycle and its application so far). It is just part of the evolution of the whole recycle structure, which still faces challenges – proper sorting solutions, material identification, hard parts, blends and compositions, trade issues … There is a whole set of complex interconnections which has been tackled step-by-step. Hopefully, Refibra® launch offers to the market the possibility of discovering novel recycle alternatives in a fair-price range (not exploiting any market position); brings the whole circular concept one step further, and also, does not rise any political barrier to its followers.
I am personally crossing fingers to see more of these developments getting its place on the market (from the other 7 studies/names or at any mentioned challenge), showing that there are infinite creativity and possibilities to rescue our finite planet!!!
 From the book Fashion & Sustainability – Design for Change ©2011:70
 From the Mistra Future Fashion report Critical Aspects in Design for Fiber-to-Fiber Recycling of Textiles ©2016
 About Further – textile rebirth catalyst my master thesis’ research on the topic (graded 1 by Rolf Heimann – hessnatur foundation)