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Singaporean Textile Giant Invests in Closed-Loop Recycling

Royal Golden Eagle (RGE), a global group of resource-based manufacturing companies that includes viscose fiber producers Sateri and Asia Pacific Rayon, is developing urban-fit, closed-loop textile-to-textile recycling solutions through the newly formed RGE-NTU Sustainable Textile Research Center (RGE-NTU SusTex).

This is a five-year research collaboration between RGE and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore to accelerate innovation in textile recycling that can be deployed in urban settings.

The research center will develop new technologies to recycle textile waste into fiber and create next-generation eco-friendly and sustainable textiles. The move comes amid the tightening of waste import bans in countries such as China, India and Indonesia, which are among the world’s largest waste processors. The stricter import bans have left cities in need of viable local textile recycling solutions to tackle the immense textile waste generated, RGE noted.

“Current textile recycling technologies, which rely primarily on a bleaching and separation process using heavy chemicals, cannot be implemented due to environmental laws,” RGE executive director Perry Lim said. “At the same time, there is an urgent need to keep textiles out of the brimming landfills. As the world’s largest viscose producer, we aim to catalyze closed-loop, textile-to-textile recycling by developing optimal urban-fit solutions that can bring the world closer to a circular textile economy.”

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The company noted that an estimated 90 million tons of textile waste is generated and disposed of every year, with less than 1 percent upcycled into new clothing or other textile materials. By 2030, the amount of global textile waste, which currently accounts for almost 10 percent of municipal solid waste, is expected to reach more than 134 million tons.

At present, most of the available textile recycling technologies are open-loop, where textile waste is typically downcycled to lower-quality products such as insulating materials and cleaning cloths or used in waste-to-heat recycling, RGE said.

“Closed-loop textile-to-textile recycling processes, particularly chemical recycling, are still under development,” Lim added. “Scaling up the technologies to industrial scale remains a challenge. A key bottleneck is that refabricating textile waste into fiber needs purity standards for feedstock. However, most of the clothes that we wear are made of a mixture of different synthetic and natural fibers, which makes separating the complex blends of materials challenging for effective recycling.”

He said RGE’s aim is to address this industry pain point by developing viable solutions that use less energy, fewer chemicals and produces harmless and less effluents, and then potentially scale up across its global operations.

To tackle the key challenges in closed-loop textile recycling, RGE-NTU SusTex is looking into four key research areas: cleaner and more energy efficient methods of recycling into new raw materials, automated sorting of textile waste, eco-friendly dye removal, and development of a new class of sustainable textiles that is durable for wear and lends itself to easier recycling.

Technologies developed by RGE-NTU SusTex will be tested at RGE’s pilot urban-fit textile recycling plant in Singapore, which is projected for completion as early as 2024. If successful, RGE has plans to replicate the plant in other urban cities within its footprint.

With more than $30 billion in assets and 60,000 staff, RGE is committed to sustainable development, conservation and community development. With current operations spanning Indonesia, China, Brazil, Spain and Canada, the company continues to expand and engage new markets.