I've been doing some research on how to recycle this fabric. That research has indicated that the fabric is generally a polyester blend, often blended with cotton. Which led me to ask if polyester fibre is recycled.
It turns out it is, and that is reasonably high profile for companies like Patagonia (working with with the Teijin ECO CIRCLE system from Japan). There is also Repreve in the US. Both processes take post-consumer fabric and reprocess it back into polyester fibre for remanufacture.
|Teijin's Eco Circle Polyester Recycling process. Source: Teijin.|
These processes chemically decompose the polyester and convert it into new polyester raw material. They work for clean polyester. I think. I'd love to know if they (or other) can also work for polyester blends.
In asking the question of networks, I was contacted by Nextek and advised:
We have recently finished a project in Europe where we have successfully recycled dyed polyester fibre, stripped out dyes and volatile and also upgraded the IV of the polyester resin for closed loop recycling back into fibre applications.
It will be interesting see what comes of it, and the answer may be the subject of a future post.
In the interim, it is good to know how much work is being done to recycle polyester. This has classically been described as recycling PET bottles back into clothes, and to be honest, I could never really reconcile this. Think about how many PET bottles are discarded and contrast that with the amount of clothing made with PET - I can't imagine they are in the same game.
But taking polyester fabric and reforming polyester fabric seems much more sane. It matches life cycle, it looks to close a loop reasonably tightly. Repreve has a great summary of what their process saves in the manufacturing process. To a non-polyester expert, this all seems pretty impressive.
|A summary of how the Repreve process conserves natural resources. Source: Repreve|
Perhaps asking the question of what can be done with mattress polyester blends can nudge the industry into finding solutions (if they don't already exist).
That, in turn, could could find a path for a whole heap of additional resources to be returned to the manufacturing process rather than landfilled. And, done locally, it enables every city of reasonable size to have its own polyester resource that can be used to build in all sorts of fabrics.