UKFT Leads £4 Million Project to Revolutionize Textile Recycling and Reduce Landfill Waste

In a groundbreaking initiative, the UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) is spearheading a £4 million project to transform textile recycling in the country. The project, named Autosort for Circular Textiles Demonstrator (ACT UK), aims to develop and pilot an innovative fully-integrated, automated sorting and pre-processing system for waste textiles. This groundbreaking technology has the potential to divert thousands of tons of textiles from ending up in landfills each year.

Supported by funding from Innovate UK, ACT UK brings together a diverse consortium of recycling technologies, textile collectors/sorters, academia, manufacturers, industry associations, technologists, and prominent brands and retailers. The project partners include renowned names such as IBM, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Pangaia, New Look, and many others. Additionally, key stakeholders such as the Salvation Army, Oxfam, and WRAP have joined forces to tackle the pressing issue of textile waste in the United Kingdom.

With over one million tons of waste generated annually in the UK, estimates suggest that one-third of this waste consists of textiles that are non-rewearable and ultimately end up in landfills, incinerators, or are exported to countries with lower labor costs for sorting.

The current manual sorting process for used textiles has proven to be inefficient and limited in its capabilities. Manual sorting fails to accurately identify garments by their fiber composition, and crucial pre-processing steps, such as removing buttons, zips, and trims, as well as sizing optimization, have not been optimized to meet individual specifications. The lack of a scalable process that combines all these crucial elements has hindered progress in textile recycling.

Building upon sorting approaches already implemented in countries like the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden, the ACT UK project will integrate and advance existing and new technologies to overcome existing barriers. The ambitious venture will harness the power of optical scanning, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), pre-processing, and size reduction equipment, creating an all-encompassing solution within a single industrial facility.

Addressing the urgency of the matter, UKFT CEO Adam Mansell highlighted the significance of finding sustainable solutions for textile waste management. Mansell stated, “What happens to our textiles when we no longer need them is a growing problem that we cannot ignore. We’re aiming to create a model to sort and prepare waste textiles for recycling in a way that’s never been done before, and at scale. A national system of recycling plants could save hundreds of thousands of tons of material from entering landfills. In turn, the system could generate huge volumes of material for use across the UK textile manufacturing sector.”

The ACT UK project marks a crucial step towards a circular economy for textiles, where materials are continuously reused and repurposed, mitigating the environmental impact of the fashion and textile industry. By automating the sorting and pre-processing of waste textiles, this initiative paves the way for a more sustainable future, reducing reliance on landfill and incineration while providing a valuable feedstock for existing and emerging recycling processes.

Over the course of the two-year project, the consortium will develop and pilot the fully-integrated system, with the ultimate goal of establishing a national network of recycling plants capable of handling large volumes of waste textiles. By doing so, the UK will significantly contribute to global efforts in combating textile waste, while simultaneously bolstering the domestic textile manufacturing sector.

As ACT UK progresses, additional partners are expected to join the consortium, further enriching the expertise and knowledge base dedicated to revolutionizing textile recycling in the country


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