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Closing the textile loop: Enzymatic fibre separation and recycling of wool/polyester fabric blends

  • Navone, Laura
  • Moffitt, Kaylee
  • Hansen, Kai Anders
  • Blinco, James
  • Payne, Alice
  • Speight, Robert
Publication Date
Feb 01, 2020
Queensland University of Technology ePrints Archive


Textile waste presents a serious environmental problem with only a small fraction of products from the fashion industry collected and re-used or recycled. The problem is exacerbated in the case of post-consumer waste by the mixture of different natural and synthetic fibres in blended textiles. The separation of mixed fibre waste, where garments are often multicomponent, presents a major recycling problem as fibres must be separated to single components to enable effective recycling. This work investigates the selective digestion of wool fibres from wool/polyester blended fabrics using an enzymatic approach. Complete degradation of wool fibres was achieved by application of a keratinase in a two-step process with addition of reducing agent and undigested polyester fibres were recovered. Electron microscopy showed complete breakdown of the natural fibres in the fabric blends, while spectroscopic and mechanical analysis of the recovered synthetic fibres confirmed that the enzymatic treatment had no significant impact on the properties of the polyester compared to virgin samples. The polyester fibres are therefore suitable to be recycled to polyester yarn and re-used in the manufacture of new garments or other products. The nutrient rich keratin hydrolysate could be used in microbial growth media or incorporated into bio-fertilisers or animal feed, contributing to the development of the circular economy.

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