Interview with Stephan Wiegand

Stephan Wiegand
Stephan Wiegand

Which are the various textiles and leather recycling categories? Which of them has a maximum demand and why?

The 4 basic categories for all kinds of textiles and leathers are rewear, reuse, downcycling and upcycling. “Rewear” is an important sorting criterion and it is our conviction that products should be used in their original form for as long as possible. This way the resources and energy used during production are respected and optimized. If the clothing and shoes are no longer usable in their origin form, the second level “re-use” is implemented: the product is processed, but remains in its original material and form. Among other possibilities as a cleaning cloth. If the material is no longer usable in its original form and no upcycling methods are available, they are sent through the recycling process. The material is pulled apart and processed into new products, such as fleece and insulation materials. These fibers are used as a base material, for instance in the production of rear shelves in the automobile industry. As a rule, new products gained through this step can currently not be reused. With every process step these materials lose quality and at some point, raw material is irretrievably lost. For this reason we call it “downcycling”. The utilization method of the future is “upcycling”. The material components are broken down and separated so that recovered material can be used as new raw material for new products. As upcycling goes all the way back to the level of the single article it is obviously the most demanding category of all.

Textile recycling equipment plays an important part in the textile recycling industry. What type of recycling equipment is important for supporting the textile industry?

One requirement to improve textile sorting processes is not any specific recycling equipment, but a system including all different electronic scan methods. We have such an over-all system by the name of MOM. All possibilities, now and in the future, to identify the different types of garments are in our system. After identification based on its material composition these garments are forwarded automatically to the best possible recycling or upcycling method.

How has been the growth rate for recovered textile all across the globe? Can you determine any percentage or any particular trend?

For many years now the global recovery rate in textiles has been around 20%. Increasing this number – ideally one day to 100% - has been one of the reasons to start I:CO. Luckily, we are not alone in this challenge: many governments and communities have recognized and are taking responsibility for their waste issues. They are looking for solutions and are working on legislative issues to implement them. For the near future we expect this trend to continue.

Sorting of various clothes and differentiating winter wear and summer, is a tough and manual process. Do you think there is any alternative to this which can speed up the process?

At the moment we are sorting the used clothing and shoes manually according to more than 400 criteria. We are actively working on an alternative - a tag and scan system for used clothing and shoes. But not just to speed up the sorting process. For establishing closed product cycles, each T-Shirt, each pair of jeans and each shoe has to “talk”, has to tell us its history, its material composition and its destination and next purpose.
Published on: 13/02/2014

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of

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