“Smart Recycling of Smart Textiles – an Un-explored area in Textile Waste Management”

E-Textiles consist of small electronic devices that are seamlessly embedded into clothing and technical textiles. Recycling and reusing are not so simple for this type of product as it needs a more careful approach.

Pranta Biswas; Textile Engineer,
Coordinator – Textile Focus & Denim Focus

A previous research paper ‘Prospective impacts of electronic textiles on recycling and disposal’ By Köhler, A. R., L. M. Hilty, and C. Bakker depicted that recycling old e‐textiles will be difficult because valuable materials are dispersed in large amounts of heterogeneous textile waste. Large amounts will be discarded in this case of hard-to-recycle products. This may lead to new problems with waste. In addition, in the recycling of textile materials, electronic components may act as contaminants. Technology developers and product designers should implement waste preventative measures at the early phases in the development process of the emerging technology. The material background and condition of smart textiles are also important factors in their long-term viability. Recyclability, or the elimination of non-recyclable components, is needed for sustainability. The sustainable growth of smart textiles gives future generations more ability and opportunity to fulfill their needs.

Benefits we can relish from Smart Textiles recycling:
E-textiles will likely be used as mass appliances and can result in large waste streams. It will be difficult to collect and recycle old e-textiles by means of contemporary collection and recycling schemes. E-textiles may also affect human health and social justice concerns generally related to e-waste. If we can recycle Smart Textile smartly, we can have unlimited benefits. Some of those are:

- Decreases landfill space requirements, bearing in mind that synthetic fiber products do not decompose and that natural fibers may release greenhouse gasses

- Avoided use of virgin fibers

Reduced consumption of energy and water

Pollution avoidance

Lessened demand for dyes.

Reduce Greenhouse gas emission

Possibility of Recycling of Smart Textiles:

The fate of old e-textiles depends on the waste management schemes that are established at the place of their disposal. Currently established recycling schemes are inappropriate to collect and process textiles with integrated electronic components. According to recycling experts, it is difficult to recycle e-textiles. They expected various technical problems. Textiles could jam shredders and crushers such as currently used in (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment [WEEE]) recycling. 

Automated separators were seen as inadequate to separate fluffy, lightweight materials, such as metalized plastic foils and textile fibers. From current WEEE recycling technology, we know that mechanical shredding results in great losses of precious metals. A large part of these materials is transferred into output fractions, from which they cannot be recovered. Likewise, shredding e-textiles would transfer the precious metals (e.g., silver) into the dust fraction. The experts estimated manual sorting and processing of e-textile waste possible, although difficult. The processing costs were estimated to be prohibitively high because the valuable metals are not concentrated in E-textile wastes as in traditional electrical waste.

Interim solution for Smart Textile Recycling:
The solution to smart textile recycling still needs more emphasis on process development. Some research that has been done came with some ray of hope. Some of them are:

The technology should be used to produce consumer products with a long life cycle.

Technology developers and product designers of e-textiles should not simply delegate responsibility for the end-of-life phase of their inventions to the recycling sector

Transforming challenges into opportunities by constructing technological artifacts in such a way that they have excellent long-term sustainability benefits over their entire product life cycle.

Sustainability benefits must be searched for and proactively put into practice.

- Industrial designers can play a vital role by creating showcases of sustainable e-textiles. That way, they can inspire consumers and decision-makers in the industry to turn their attention toward sustainable alternatives.

Eco-design of the new product must be imposed by every research institution.

Likewise, waste prevention should be made an explicit goal of innovation strategies. And Govt must take the initiative by introducing rules and regulations.

More use of smart textiles for simple and coarse sensors, like resistive or capacitive sensors. It will assist in obtaining precision through the use of multiple sensors and data extrapolation.

- More usage of already existing surface textiles so that there is less need for infinitesimal sensors and electronic components.

Make sure that multiple data paths and parallel lines ensure reliability and secure fail circuitry. There can be nothing more frustrating than a smart textile product that does not function correctly.

Focusing on minimal use of materials, such as mono- materials.

The usage of fossil fuels can create new possibilities for a sustainable future.

Disassembling of controlling circuits from the smart textile for longevity and longer usage. With the easy and removable assembly of electronic hardware on the textile surface.

Improving the durability of the products by focusing on the quality, disposability, wear, reparability, functional obsolescence, technological obsolescence, and aesthetic obsolescence.

The way materials are developed should be considered carefully.

Developing sustainable wearables using multi-disciplinary thinking.

Source: Textile Focus