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UK scientists working to reduce textile industry waste

Dec 01, 2020
 UK scientists working to reduce textile industry waste

Scientists at the University of York and the Royal College of Art are jointly working to reduce the environmental impact of the textile industry in the UK. The country sends around one million tonnes of waste textiles to incineration and landfill each year. The emissions caused by the industry are almost as high as the total CO2 emitted through the use of cars.

The fashion sector is worth £32 billion annually to the UK economy, but most clothing and almost all textile and yarn are imported. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the fragility of these supply chains and the UK’s dependency on them.

In the new £5.4 million project, researchers at York, alongside the Universities of Leeds, Manchester, Cranfield, Cambridge, and University College London, will use household waste, crop residues and used textiles to develop new products that can be produced in the UK.

The project is based on a technology developed by a team at the University of York’s Department of Biology, which uses enzymes to deconstruct materials containing cellulose, such as natural and semi-synthetic fibres, crop residues, and solid waste products.

The enzymes help breakdown these materials into simple sugars, which can then be converted back into new cellulose by bacteria. This new cellulose is used to spin fibres that can be woven to produce high-quality textiles to supply the UK’s fashion and clothing sector.

Professor Simon McQueen-Mason, from the University of York’s Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP), said: “The clothing and fashion sector is currently one of the most polluting, responsible for 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and 20 per cent of global wastewater.”

“Our approach will dramatically reduce carbon emissions and wastewater from textile production. As a result, it will create a more secure domestic supply chain, stimulating economic growth in the UK, while reducing waste,” McQueen-Mason said.

The research will form part of the Royal College of Art’s Textile Circularity Centre (TCC), funded by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). The Centre supports better social, economic, and environmental outcomes through an interdisciplinary consortium of partners from academia, industry, NGOs, and the public sector.

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