Waste turned into fashion textiles can create new supply chains in the UK, supporting the brand “designed and made in the UK”

A consortium led by the Royal College of Art (RCA) is working on a £5.4m project that includes transforming household waste, crops and old fabrics into new textiles.

The aim is to reduce the amount of fabric sent to incinerators and landfill per year in the UK, as well as the amount that is imported.

In a bid to make the textile industry more sustainable, researchers will create new materials by breaking down materials that contain cellulose – such as household waste, crop residues and used textiles – and turning them into simple sugars using enzymes.

The enzymes help break down these materials into simple sugars, which are then converted back into new cellulose by bacteria. This new cellulose is then used to spin fibres that can be woven to produce high-quality textiles.

The RCA will collaborate with scientists and researchers from Cranfield University, University of Cambridge, University College London, University of Leeds, University of Manchester and University of York, as part of the consortium.

Professor Simon McQueen-Mason, from the University of York’s Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP), said: “The clothing and fashion sector is currently one of the most polluting, responsible for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 20% of global wastewater.

“Our approach will dramatically reduce the carbon emissions and wastewater from textile production. As a result, it will create a more secure domestic supply chain, stimulating economic growth in the UK, while reducing waste.”

The fabric will eventually be made into clothes designed by students at the Royal College of Art.

Around one million tonnes of textile waste in the UK is incinerated or sent to landfill each year. In addition to this, the textile industry’s emission levels are almost as high as the total CO2 emissions from cars.

The fashion industry is annually worth £32bn to the UK economy, but the majority of clothing, textile and yarn is imported. While COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how reliant the UK has been on international supply chains, the high-quality textiles produced as a result of transforming household waste, crops and old fabrics could change that, enabling the UK to produce its own textiles and supply the UK’s clothing and fashion sector.

The RCA-led consortium will establish the Textiles Circularity Centre (TCC) to enable the transition to a more ‘circular’ economy that supports the brand ‘designed and made in the UK’. The Centre will catalyse growth in the fashion and textiles manufacturing sector and the creative technologies sector by supporting the SME fashion-apparel community with innovations in materials and product manufacturing, supply chain design, and consumer experience design.

These new UK-based supply chains encompass waste management and farming through to textile production, design and consumer experience. The Centre will take an integrated systems approach to reduce reliance on imported, environmentally and ethically impactful materials, and to diversify supply chains.

According to the RCA, this approach will drive the green jobs agenda, and eliminate textile waste going to landfill and incineration, and increase resource productivity, reduce carbon emissions and environmental harm, provide alternatives to energy-from-waste, as well as grow the UK bioeconomy.

Professor Sharon Baurley, RCA’s Director of the Textiles Circularity Centre, said: “The environmental and human costs of fashion are huge. Covid-19 has brought into sharp relief the link between human activity and damage to the environment. The time is ripe to explore an alternative model for fashion-apparel.

“Our Circular Economy system design proposes to do just that by introducing a new relationship between materials and human wellbeing and by innovating circular fibres and textiles for the UK – and global – SME fashion industry.”

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com

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