A new research center and future recycling plant mark S’pore’s first attempt to recycle used textiles

SINGAPORE – A pilot textile recycling plant will open in Singapore as early as 2024, as part of a comprehensive investment in Singapore’s textile recycling capabilities.

Part of those investments include a new Textile Recycling Research Center which opened on Thursday (August 4).

The new research center and eventual recycling factory – which would produce new fabrics and materials from used fabrics, such as old clothes – marks Singapore’s first attempt to recycle used textiles, beyond reusing them .

The center’s research will be piloted in the country’s first textile recycling plant, which will recycle 8,760 tonnes of fabric waste per year at full capacity. This is equivalent to the weight of 58.4 million T-shirts.

The new research center at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) comes from a $6 million investment from Royal Golden Eagle (RGE), a global resource-based manufacturing group and the world’s largest producer of viscose .

RGE Executive Director Perry Lim said there was an urgent need to start recycling textile waste in Singapore, as he said the Republic produced 189,000 tonnes of textile waste last year, from sources such as discarded clothing, linens and bags.

Mr. Lim said: “Currently, only 4% of textiles are (reused) and are either donated to low-income families or exported to other countries.”

Moreover, once the quality of the clothes completely deteriorates, they are eventually thrown away and wasted.

Therefore, Lim said it is important to develop new and better ways to recycle textiles into higher quality materials to increase the lifespan of raw materials such as cotton.

However, recycling waste fabric presents many challenges, said Professor Hu Xiao of the NTU School of Materials Science and Engineering, one of which is the separation of combined fibers frequently used in clothing – such as cotton blend – polyester.

Professor Hu, who co-directs the new RGE-NTU Sustainable Textiles Research Centre, said: “These blended fibers are actually a weave of cotton and polyester fibers twisted into a very fine diameter.”

He added that separating them mechanically would be too complicated and would also render the constituent fibers unusable.

But he said the center aims to overcome this difficulty by chemically dissolving these fibers to recover their basic materials.