Published 2017-10-31

This post is also available in Swedish

Anna Palme praised for her textile recycling

The recycling company Renova has selected Anna Palme as the winner of its annual environmental award. In her research in the Mistra Future Fashion programme, she has developed a method that makes textile recycling easier.

The average Swede buys 50 items of clothing per year. The costs are not only financial but also environmental. Combined, textile manufacturing and the use and care of clothes generate both high carbon emissions and extensive chemical use. In addition, production of the various textile raw materials is far from trouble-free.

Nevertheless, we must have clothes and like variation in our wardrobes. One way to achieve greater sustainability is to step up recycling of textile materials we no longer find useful.

But this is easier said than done. The existing methods are resource-intensive, while causing heavy wear and tear on the fibres intended for reuse. The process is technically complicated, too, and the most difficult challenge is to find methods that work for mixed materials. For Mistra Future Fashion, this is a priority research area.

One of the most active researchers is Anna Palme, who recently gained a PhD at the Department of Chemical Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology.

‘While working on my PhD thesis, I developed a method that now allows us to separate cotton from polyester using simple basic chemicals,’ she says.

There is a growing need to find ways to separate cotton and polyester, since this blend is increasingly common in textiles, being both more durable and cheaper to manufacture.

‘When we develop new recycling technology, we can’t just look at whether it’s feasible. It’s just as important to ensure that the recycled fibres are usable in existing processes.’

The polyester that comes out of the process can easily be upcycled as a new raw material that is fully up to par. The cotton, on the other hand, is heavily worn after the garment has been used, which means that the fibres are not good enough for new cotton fabrics. On the other hand, they are eminently suitable for making viscose.

The separation technology now works well in a lab environment, and much of Anna Palme’s current work is now a matter of scaling up the process.

There has been great interest in the results announced to date. Anna Palme has received the annual environmental award from Renova (a waste and recycling company owned by ten municipalities in western Sweden). The purpose of this award is to stimulate research in the environmental and recycling sector.

‘I’m pleased that my research is attracting attention, and this spurs me on. I enjoy going to work even more now that I know that others think I’ve done something important.’