Our t-shirts and other clothing are everyday items with the lowest recycling rate in the world. It is less than 10%. So the researchers now plan to feed them… with enzymes!
Every year, Europeans throw away several million tons of textiles. On average, between 10 and 15 kilos per person. Most of these textiles are incinerated or landfilled. There are several ways to reduce the amount of this waste. The reduction of overproduction and overconsumption, in the first place. The extension of the useful life of these textiles as well. But also the recycling of its fibers… if it weren’t too energy intensive to be interesting.
But, at the beginning of February, Researchers at the University of Portsmouth (United Kingdom) offered new hope in this regard. from a enzyme technology developed to reduce single-use plastic, including the very common polyethylene terephthalate (PET), to its basic components, they plan to develop a similar process, based on enzymes “diners” of plastic, therefore allowing our t-shirts to break down into their fibers for safe and economical recycling of polyester textiles, please remember that polyester is made from PET.
From the t-shirt to the fibers
T-shirts cut into small pieces. It is then submerged in liquid nitrogen and reduced to shreds and finally, in an aqueous solution, it is placed in the heart of a bioreactor where the enzymes await for the ” eat “. Or more precisely, break the molecules that compose them in very specific places. What complicates the researchers’ work here is the presence of dyes and other chemical treatment products. They look hard to “to digest” by the researchers’ enzymes.
Thus, after selecting the most appropriate enzymes -from a panel of 70 already identified to attack plastic-, the researchers imagine that they might have to undergo a pre-treatment of the textiles that will be used in the bioreactors. With the illusion of creating a circular economy that respects the environment. The objective here is no longer to find new uses for old textiles, but to extract simple fibers to turn them into new polyesters —or why not, into other products to reduce the need for virgin PET, obtained from fossil resources, oil and gas.
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