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Researchers to convert waste into clothes

Used clothes, agricultural and household waste could be turned into new clothes under a new research project aiming to tackle waste and pollution in the fashion industry.

Researchers at the University of York and the Royal College of Art have won a grant of £5.4 million, from the UK Research and Innovation initiative, for a four-year project using enzymes to breakdown waste that would otherwise be destined for landfill.

Alongside used clothes, the project will focus on reusing wheat straw to convert into new fibres, and has also looked at using straw from barley and oil seed rape, as well as sugarbeet pulp.

Once the waste material is broken down into cellulose and then simple sugars, the sugars are reconverted back into cellulose and then in turn used to manufacture new high-quality textiles. 

Our approach will dramatically reduce the carbon emissions and wastewater from textile production,” said Professor Simon McQueen-Mason from the University of York. 

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New technology could reduce the dual burden of pollution and waste in the fashion industry

The production, use, and disposal of clothes has a significant environmental impact. With long supply chains and energy intensive production, the fashion industry contributes to around 10 per cent of global greenhouse gases. In addition, an estimated £140 million worth of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK annually.

Dr Alexandra Lanot, who works on the project at the University of York, said: “We hope to produce cellulose from our waste feedstock for a similar price as the one produced from trees in viscose manufacturing."

“The award is for a four-year project and we hope to have a garment at the end of the project with as much information as possible on the cost associated with producing it.”

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