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Wardrobes are often overflowing, even though – according to a Greenpeace study on shopping habits – many trousers, skirts and tops are hardly ever worn, if at all. Even clothing in good condition is discarded – either to be thrown away or dropped in a collection bank. This is far from environmentally friendly, as the production of clothing uses huge quantities of resources, chemicals and water. Whilst some old clothes in Germany are recycled, they are merely downcycled to make products such as cleaning cloths. That’s because the garments are often made of a material blend – and rarely consist of just a single fabric. Up to now, it has not been possible to separate the various intertwined fibres. “A pair of jeans, for instance, always contains some synthetic fibres such as polyester and elastane,” explains André Lehmann at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research (IAP) in Potsdam. On behalf of Swedish firm re:newcell, the chemist and his team have now managed to convert the pulp from recycled cotton into viscose fibres made from pure cellulose. This produced a filament yarn, i.e. a continuous fibre measuring several kilometres and made from 100% cellulose that is similar in quality to wood-based regenerated cellulose fibre and that is suitable for mass production in the established industrial process for making viscose. As cellulose decomposes and does not add to the mountains of microplastic polluting the world’s oceans, these fibres offer a huge advantage compared to petroleum-based polyester fibres, which dominate the global market with a share of approx. 60%. “Cotton clothing is usually incinerated or ends up on landfill.  It can now be recycled several times to contribute to greater sustainability in fashion,” remarks Lehmann. This process also makes it possible to broaden the base of raw materials for cellulose production in the garment industry.

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