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Industry Talk

UKFT leads £4 million recycling project

Consortium will build on sorting approaches currently coming to market in the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.

15th June 2023

Innovation in Textiles
 |  London


UKFT is leading a £4 million project to develop and pilot a fully-integrated, automated sorting and pre-processing demonstrator for waste textiles which could eventually divert thousands of tons from landfill each year.

ACT UK – the Autosort for Circular Textiles Demonstrator (ACT UK) – is a two-year project that will support the transition from uneconomic manual sorting of clothes and textiles that are not suitable for resale to highly-automated sorting and pre-processing, which can then be used as feedstock for existing and emerging recycling processes.

The project brings together  a consortium of recycling technologies, textile collectors/sorters, academia, manufacturers, industry associations, technologists and brands/retailers, supported with funding from Innovate UK.

Project partners are IBM, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Pangaia, New Look, Reskinned, Salvation Army, Oxfam, Textile Recycling International, Shred Station, Worn Again Technologies, English Fine Cottons, Alex Begg, Camira, Manufacturing Technology Centre, University of Leeds, University of Huddersfield, the Textile Recycling Association and WRAP. Other partners are expected to join the consortium.

Over one million tons of waste is generated annually in the UK and estimates suggest that a third of is non-rewearable and being lost to landfill/incineration or exported to be sorted in lower cost labour regions.

Manual sorting of used textiles has its limitations. It is not possible to manually sort garments by fibre composition and pre-processing (button, zip and trim removal) and sizing steps required by textile recyclers haven’t been optimised and customised to meet individual specifications. No scaled process currently exists which brings all of this into one industrial process or facility.

ACT UK will build on sorting approaches that are currently coming to market in countries such as the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden and will combine and advance existing and new supporting technologies to overcome current barriers. It will bring together optical scanning, robotics, AI, pre-processing and size reduction equipment all under one roof.

“What happens to our textiles when we no longer need them is a growing problem that we cannot ignore,” said UKFT CEO Adam Mansell. “We’re aiming to create a model to sort and prepare waste textiles for recycling in a way that’s never been done before, and at scale. A national system of recycling plants could save hundreds of thousands of tons of material from entering landfill. In turn, the system could generate huge volumes of material for use across the UK textile manufacturing sector.”

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