The visual identity of corporate clothing is partly determined by embroidered emblems or logos durably attached to the fabric surface. Currently at the end of life, such motifs cannot be economically removed from the garments without damaging the underlying fabric. Consequently, corporate clothing, which may be highly-specified, is frequently discarded at the end of its first life, which usually occurs well before the performance of the garment or constituent fabric has deteriorated to a point that it is not serviceable. This creates a significant waste of valuable raw materials.
Aims & Approach
A viable method of emblem removal is required that has the potential to become an automated process would be an enabler of cost-effective reuse of high-performance embroidered corporate garments by either existing users or other customers. Corporate garments could then be reused either without an emblem or with the addition of a newly embroidered emblem.
The project involved a corporate clothing manufacturer, a major UK retailer, the UKís largest collector of second hand clothing and a specialist technical textile R&D organisation all of whom have significant experience of the market dynamics and technical barriers in this field. The Feasibility Study comprised a technical evaluation of five systems for the removal of logos, namely:
- Polymer degradation using microwaves.
- Chemically-triggered erasable colour.
- Reversible adhesive.
- Reversible transfer printing.
- High temperature soluble yarns.
Through Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) analysis it was observed that textile yarns can be degraded using a combination of conductive yarn subjected to microwaves. Further work is required to control the heat produced by metallic yarn so as to minimise garment damage and also to carry out bulk trials for industrial-scale feasibility. This approach was judged to have provided the most promising commercially viable option for removing embroidered logos.
The addition of thermally-activated expanding microspheres has also improved the reversibility of adhesives used for applying logos to textiles.
The environmental benefits have been assessed for the corporate clothing market; circa. 11,000 tonnes is deemed to be unusable currently. It is considered that reusing second hand clothing is, in CO2 terms, four times more effective than recycling. Displacing virgin fibre with recycled could save up to 7 or 8 tonnes of CO2 per tonne; however, reusing corporate wear could realise 28 to 32 tonnes of CO2 per tonne. Reusing 50% of the potentially available corporate clothes will contribute savings of between 150,000 and 170,000 tonnes CO2 per annum. The application of the new technology to consumer markets could help to reuse or recycle a significant proportion of the 1.1 million tonnes currently disposed of to landfill sites.
Further work is required to progress the promising feasible technologies to an industrial scale. This work would focus on refining the feasible approaches until they are commercially acceptable and would be best achieved by an expanded consortium approach with partners in addition to the feasibility stage. As a result of the success of this project, a follow-on project has been proposed as in the process of being worked up for approval by Defra. This approach would enable prototypes to be developed and validated ready for commercial exploitation as well as exploring other key supply chain issues relevant to reuse.
The project will be disclosed using textile-related media, Defra and through the Remanufacturing web-site. The most important outcome is the engagement of further partners to take the work forward to practical demonstration.