Fabrics or textiles are flexible materials that have been made from woven fibres. These fibres can be natural fibres that come from animals or plants (wool/cotton), man-made fibres that are made from natural raw materials (rayon) or synthetic fibres that are produced by chemical processes (nylon/polyester). Sometimes fibres are also mixed to achieve certain qualities in a fabric.
The most common textile materials that industry has used since ancient times are the following:
- Wool: a natural fibre extracted mainly from sheep and other animals such as llamas. The use of this material dates back to the Neolithic period. It is used to make gloves, blankets...
- Silk: is a natural fibre that is made up of proteins. Several animals produce silk, but the textile industry only uses silk produced by the silkworm. It was used in China around 2700 B.C. In Europe it was known in the 2nd century B.C. as a textile material.
- Flax: It is a plant and its stalk is used to make fabrics. It is the first plant fibre to be accepted by the textile industry. In Egypt, mummies could be wrapped in linen.
- Cotton: is a vegetable textile fibre and grows around the seeds of the cotton plant. It is the most important natural fibre. Its importance began in the 19th century and today a high percentage of textile fibre consumption is cotton.
- Hemp: is the fibre obtained from the cannabis plant that is used in the textile industry. It has been used in many cultures for its textile potency and also for other applications.
- Byssus: is a natural fibre obtained from the filaments secreted by some molluscs. It is a kind of linen with a very fine texture.
Textile recycling is the reuse or reprocessing of used clothing, fibrous material or leftover clothing from manufacturing processes. Fabric waste appears in municipal solid waste (MSW) as discarded clothing, footwear, bed linen or towels. This waste is collected from different sources and is sorted and processed according to the state of the material. Consumption in the textile industry is very high and can deplete natural resources, which is why recycling is so important.
The most commonly used technique for recycling textiles is mechanical processing. In this process, textiles are initially sorted, then sorted by colour and then shredded and separated into fibres. In the process called carding, the recycled fibres (lower quality and shorter) are spun into new fibres. Chemical processing is used on synthetic fibres as they can be broken down and recreated, but it is not a widely used process.
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