Researchers at UNSW Sydney have developed an effective process to turn old clothing and textiles into high-quality building products such as flat panels.
Led by Professor Veena Sahajwalla, Director of UNSW’s Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology, the researchers have been scientifically reforming common waste items using prototype technology to convert low-value waste into high-value building products and materials.
The process builds on work through the centre’s one-of-a-kind e-waste microfactory which can transform the components of discarded electronic items (e.g. phones or laptops) into new and reusable materials which can then be used to manufacture high-value metal alloys and carbon. Rather than using electronics however, the green microfactory uses a similar process to convert old clothing and mixed waste glass into valuable insulation and building panels.
The result is a high-composite product which can either hold a wood veneer look or a ceramic-style finish.
While the textile materials tested exceptional well in labs to mechanical performance properties including strength, flexibility and resistance, further lab testing is required to explore these properties ahead of applying for any formal assessment against construction regulations.
Professor Sahajwalla said these newly published results of the products is an effort to find ways to reduce waste and address our unsustainable landfill problems – which all countries are experiencing.
“It could be said that consumers and the fashion industry have a lot to answer for, given that clothing is now one of the biggest consumer waste streams, with 92 million tonnes estimated to be thrown out a year globally. The clothing and textiles industry is the second most polluting sector in the world, accounting for 10 per cent of the world’s total carbon emissions,” she said.
Veena said that when considering the population growth trend is expected to jump from a current world population of 7.6 billion to 9.8 billion by 2050, the earth’s resources need to be preserved and re-used rather than put into landfill or incinerated.
“There is much that can be done right now given that scientifically-developed, proven methods are currently available through our green microfactory technology,” she stated.
“Rather than export our rubbish overseas and to create more landfill, green microfactory technology has the potential to enable small and large-scale creation of newly manufactured products instead.”
Not only can green microfactories produce high-performance materials and products, but Professor Sahajwalla said they can also eliminate the necessity of expensive machinery, save on the extraction from the environment of yet more natural materials, and reduce the waste burden.
More information on this research can be found here.