Salvation Army introduces automated technology to sort recycled clothing

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A new ‘Fibersort system’ has been announced by the commercial arm of the charity The Salvation Army (SATCoL) – using technology capable of sorting and classifying non-wearable clothing and textiles by fiber type, blend and color at recycling purposes.

Thanks to this innovation, funded in part by the government’s Resource Action Fund, donated garments that are not in a condition to be reused will be able to be reprocessed and reused – thus remaining in the circular textile supply chain and being turned away. of the landfill.

Within the Automated Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), operated by SATCol at its processing center in Kettering in the Midlands, Fibresort technology will identify and categorize non-wearable textile items.

Each item is first carefully inspected by staff to see if the garment can be worn again or is in a condition that can only be recycled, said Bernie Thomas, sustainability manager at SATCoL. Resource.

Following this, the process separates textiles into fibers such as cotton, polyester and wool. This is done through the use of an infrared camera and then blowing items from a conveyor belt into bins using air jets.

According to SATCol, Fibresort recognizes the percentage fiber content of each item and is able to sort specified blends such as polycotton and wool blends with a higher level of accuracy than manual sorting. The fibers can also be sorted according to specific or mixed color categories.

Previously, Thomas explained to Resource, non-wearable clothing and textiles were manually sorted by look and feel and classified for reuse or recycling. However, Fibersort can “classify a garment by its fiber type or fiber blend more accurately than the human eye”, which has the potential to improve the recycling or recovery of these materials.

Additionally, being able to sort textiles into different material grades enhances earned revenue, hence charitable donations, as the resulting process results are more suited to higher-grade recycling applications rather than recycling uses. of inferior quality.

Thomas continued to say Resource that SATCoL is working with retailers and the supply chain to begin using post-consumer textiles in new textile products.

Currently, the charity collects 50,000 tons of textiles per year and has around 8,000 clothing collection banks spread across the country, which can hold up to 240 kilos of textiles, including clothes, bags and shoes. .

Through the reuse and recycling of collected clothing, SATCoL claims to be able to prevent more than 235,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere each year.

Every year, SATCoL diverts over 250 million items and in the past ten years alone has raised over £78 million for the Salvation Army and its business partners’ charities – these figures can be enhanced by new technology.

Kirk Bradley, Head of Corporate Partnerships at SATCoL, said, “We are excited to be working with this groundbreaking new technology. This helps reduce waste and more donated clothing can be reused, resold and raise more money for vital charity work.

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