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

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Pranta Biswas; Textile Engineer, 

Coordinator – Textile Focus & Denim Focus

Smart Textile, an indomitable area of innovation in the textile world. Being so inclusive to modernism people often shift their habit of consuming more technology-based smart products. This wave of being digitalized is sparking the innovation of smart textile- the so-called E-Textiles. In the future, E‐textiles could develop into a large market. We have the uttermost tendency to innovate value-added smart textile, but are we really thinking about the future of those products after being consumed? Obviously not so much. To keep our post-consumed garments away from landfills, the waste management technique is very much practiced nowadays. Post-consumed garments are nowadays recycled and used for recreating new garments. This technical method is pretty well developed. But If we talk about E-Textiles that contain some other electrical instruments with fiber is not possible to recycle in the same method. Some special care and treatment are needed to convert that fabric into the mesh. We are still in the deep darkness of the most possible disaster which needs a ray of hope to be lightened. That’s why Smart textile recycling needs a smart solution for a better, resilient and waste-free future.

Introduction:

smart-textile-2E-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. 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

Components that restrict the regular process of recycling:

e-textileThe regular recycling process of textile waste is not applicable for Smart textiles products as they contain various materials apart from textile raw material. The below types of material that used in E-textiles constraint the regular recycling process.

  • Electrically conductive fibers and sheets
  • Optical fibers
  • Soldering joints, bonding pads, mechanical Contacts
  • Flexible wiring boards and embroidered wiring
  • LEDs, OLEDs, laser diodes, and flexible displays
  • Digital devices, such as mp3 player, microcontroller, and networking units
  • Embedded periphery: dial pad, speaker,
  • microphone, radio-frequency antenna, RFID tags
  • Solar cells, piezoelectric units, thermoelectric generators

Those above-mentioned material are usually made of Copper, Aluminum, silver, Gold, Carbon nanotube, Polyaniline, titanium, Optical glass or plastic, polypyrrole, polythiophene, etc which are needed to be treated carefully.

In addition to that Batteries contained in old e-textiles could cause a fire hazard if not removed before waste management. Electronic waste may be thought of as a contaminant in textile waste streams. E-textiles can interfere with these processes or contaminate the secondary fibers produced. Other recycled products (such as synthetic fibers) contaminate the latter and can reduce its market value. Furthermore, the co-processing of old e-textiles in fiber recycling could result in unexpected heavy metal dust emissions that can cause potential damage to workers’ health and the environment.

Possibility of Recycling of Smart Textiles:

smart-textiles-4The 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.

Conclusion:

According to the 360 Research report, the global E-Textiles market size is projected to reach US$ 7274.5 million by 2026, from US$ 2536 million in 2020, at a CAGR of 19.2% during 2021-2026. This means the market segmentation will increase significantly and causes a huge threat to the environment. If we want to make a sustainable and better world, we must consider this small but significant issue carefully. We should focus more on reusing. The recycling process should be developed with more and more research and development. A smart recycling solution of smart textile can address this E-textile waste management system a time befitting accomplishment for a cleaner, safer and sustainable lifestyle.

 

References:

  1. “Prospective impacts of electronic textiles on recycling and disposal.” By Köhler, A. R., L. M. Hilty, and C. Bakker. -Journal of Industrial Ecology, 2011.
  2. “SUSTAINABILITY IN SMART TEXTILE” by Shradhanjali Borah & Mr. Goutam Bar, National Institute of Fashion Technology, Bhubaneswar, India. – Textile Value Chain, Dec 04, 2020.
  3. “Smart E-Textile Materials” By Dilan Canan Çelikel, – Intechopen, October 30th, 2020
  4. “The Basics of Textile Recycling- Growth of Textile Recycling Promises to Divert More Material from Landfills” By RICK LEBLANC, -The Balance Small Business, December 30, 2020
  5. https://textilefocus.com/e-textile-new-sensation-textiles/
  6. https://cfda.com/resources/sustainability-resources/
  7. https://www.environmentalleader.com/2011/11/study-smart-fabrics-pose-e-waste-threat/
  8. https://www.360researchreports.com/global-electronic-textiles-sales-market-16615686

 

 

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