Upcycling Post-consumer Blends Products

Textile waste is a growing concern in the era of mass consumption. Used garments in good condition were until recently sent to developing countries for reselling or reprocessing. With a low recycling recovery rate of 3.4% in 2016 and the banning of textiles wastes by key importers like China, Hong Kong must continue its search for effective ways to manage the growing volumes of disposed garments.

The mechanical method is the most straightforward way of textile recycling. However, it causes deterioration of the recycled fibre, which ends up in low-end products such as rags, furniture materials, or car seat filling.

A Solution to Tackle Traditional Mechanical Recycling

HKRITA has developed a dry and closed upcycling system to recycle old clothes into quality textile fibres which is hygienic to be used for re-production of various textiles and products, including yarn, fabric, and garments.

The system comprises of five main parts: a Sanitisation Station, Materials Preparation Station, Colour Sorting Station, Smart Storage System, and a Fibra Processing System.

With clean and spinnable fibres as the desired product, the used garments are cleaned at the beginning and towards the end of the process through Ozone and Ultra-Violet (UV) Sanitisation systems respectively, with a minimum of 90% microorganism concentration on the material being reduced.

High Degree of Automation

The Colour Sorting Station is assisted by a SCARA robot, and uses Advanced Vision Algorithms to sort garments into nine colours. This process conveniently eliminates the need for dyeing and finishing of fibres by the end of the upcycling process, ultimately readying the color-sorted fibres for spinning.

Upon filling up a container of fabric of the same colour, a smart storage system will transport it to the storage area by Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV). This will accumulate a series of containers to enable a continuous downstream production. When a downstream order is received, the smart storage system is able to retrieve corresponding number of containers automatically and then transport them downstream for production.

During the downstream process, fibre quality and properties are maintained through a series of special mechanical processes. A machine enclosure is installed around the dust-generating fibre processing steps to improve operational safety and contain the dust and sound. A dust collection mechanism with suction nozzles within the enclosure extracts the dust generated by the fibre processing operation.

Application of Recycling Technologies at the Industrial Level

The upcycling system is now installed in a spinning mill in Tai Po. This is the first local spinning mill to have opened in half a century. The facility will eventually have three production lines, each capable of producing one ton a day of recycled fibres from post-consumer textiles.

This project has also won a gold medal in the 46th International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva.

Project video of Upcycling Post-consumer Blends Products
The upcycling system is highly automated
Special mechanical processes are able to maintain fibre quality

Project Coordinator: Mr Edwin Keh
Research Institution: The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel