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New Finnish tech for automated sorting of waste textiles

Sep '19
Pic: Petra Ristola / Yle
Pic: Petra Ristola / Yle
Finnish recycling firm LSJH, the Lahti University of Applied Sciences and materials sensor equipment manufacturer Spectral Engines have developed a technology for automated sorting of waste textiles. LSJH is currently running a pilot processing plant that aims to accelerate the textile circular economy. Sorting of waste textiles is a manual process now.

Recognition technology based on an infrared sensor is familiar in sorting plastic packaging, but it is new in textile recycling, according to LSJH project engineer Jaakko Zitting, who was part of the team that developed the technology.

The goal is to create a facility that will be able to use the new infrared sensor to process all discarded textiles from Finland as well as textile waste from abroad, according to a report by a Finnish public service media company.

So far waste textiles have been manually sorted in Finland as well as in other parts of Europe. This means that workers check labels to identify different kinds of materials. However labels can be inaccurate or may even be missing at times. This becomes problematic given that industries using recycled fibres to manufacture new products need to be certain of the raw material they are using.

The optical recognition technology under development will improve the reliability of identification of fibres in fabrics and will help ensure better quality textile products, LSJH said in a statement.

The technology will be deployed this autumn. Different fibres will be used for different products, with better quality material reserved for thread that could be used to manufacture new clothing. Recycled fibre can also be used for purposes such as composite products or even insulation material.

Textile recycling is only possible if the entire textiles value chain is aligned with the circular economy, i.e., if recycled fibres are used to bring new products to the market. It is therefore of utmost important to find new businesses that want to utilise recycled fibres to develop new products, said LSJH project leader and circular economy specialist Sini Ilmonen.

Funding for the processing plant was provided by municipal waste facilities and the Ministry of employment and economy. Additionally, public funding agency Business Finland contributed a €1.5-million investment grant. (DS)

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