Fibre waste, which is solid, is no threat to human health unlike toxic pollutants; but the large volume of solid waste in general, generated by human activities poses significant environmental problems. Although the recent emphasis has been on recycling and other schemes to divert solid waste from disposal, a majority of solid waste still ends up in landfills or is incinerated.
When non-renewable raw materials are used in a product, the key to improved sustainability is in many cases recycling. Of course, provided, that collection and recycling systems are efficient and do not consume more non-renewable energy than is gained from the recycled product. This balance can only be determined by careful analysis. This analysis is usually valid only for the geographical area analyzed. What is sustainable for one region should not be the case for any region, due to the systems available at that time, in that geographic area.
A typical example of post-consumer waste recycling is the polyester drink bottle recycling. Carbonated soft drinks bottles and water bottles made from PET are collected and delivered to recycling plants, where they are cleaned, chopped into ‘flakes’, which are spun into man-made fibres, mainly staple fibre. Carbon emissions associated with making polyester fibre from used PET bottles are only a fraction of the emissions associated with fibre made from virgin chemicals.
By now, over 70% of polyester staple produced in the European Union is made from recycled materials, mainly PET bottles but also factory waste. Most of the output goes into fillings and nonwovens, but some European companies are also producing fibres suitable for some spinning uses. Fine fibres for spinning are still predominantly based on virgin raw materials.
Another example of recycled post consumer waste is carpet recycling. In Europe carpet recycling is just ready to start, while in the US a carpet recycling network has been established for quite some years through the C.A.R.E. programme.
Any textile waste which cannot be recycled can be efficiently incinerated with electricity and heat recovery, because of the high calorific value of man-made fibres.