Breakthrough Solution Emerges for Polyester Recycling, Paving the Way for a Greener Textile Industry

In a remarkable stride towards revolutionizing sustainability within the textile industry, a group of ingenious young chemists from Copenhagen University have unveiled a groundbreaking solution to the long-standing challenge of polyester recycling. The innovative technique, hailed as an environmental game-changer, not only depolymerizes polyester but also recovers cotton using a remarkably simple and eco-friendly process.

The prevailing issue of blended fabrics, such as polyester/cotton combinations, has posed a significant hurdle for the recycling sector. Traditional methods often force a choice between recycling either the plastic or the cotton component, but the newly discovered catalytic approach promises to upend this dichotomy. Spearheaded by postdoc Yang Yang of the Jiwoong Lee group at the University of Copenhagen’s department of chemistry, this pioneering solution offers a beacon of hope for a more sustainable future.

At the heart of this remarkable breakthrough lies a process that utilizes heat, a non-toxic solvent, and an everyday household ingredient – hartshorn salt, a staple in baking. This simple yet effective method enables the depolymerization of polyester into its monomers while concurrently recovering cotton. Remarkably, the technique can be scaled to an industrial level, raising the prospect of a large-scale, eco-friendly transformation in the textile industry.

Yang Yang, the lead author of the study, emphasizes the pressing need for a comprehensive solution to tackle blended fabrics: “The textile industry urgently requires a better solution to handle blended fabrics like polyester/cotton. Currently, there are very few practical methods capable of recycling both cotton and plastic—it’s typically an either-or scenario. However, with our newly discovered technique, we can depolymerize polyester into its monomers while simultaneously recovering cotton on a scale of hundreds of grams, using an incredibly straightforward and environmentally friendly approach. This traceless catalytic methodology could be the game-changer.”

In an era where environmental concerns are taking center stage, the importance of sustainable practices in every sector cannot be overstated. This breakthrough not only addresses a persistent challenge but also offers a glimpse into the future of a circular economy for textiles. The newfound approach, which requires no specialized equipment, makes it even more attractive for widespread adoption.

The research’s results were detailed in an article published on the University of Copenhagen’s online portal. The discovery has garnered attention from industry experts, policymakers, and environmental enthusiasts alike. As the textile industry strives to navigate the intricate landscape of sustainability, this remarkable breakthrough serves as a beacon of hope, heralding a future where the fusion of innovation and environmental consciousness sets a new standard for progress.


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