The human population growth and the necessity to meet the basic needs for food and clothing have led to uncontrolled use of natural resources and rampant pollution, which resulted in global warming on Earth. This has sounded the alarm and many people and institutions were spurred to undertake actions for salvation.
Circular economy is a new concept that was introduced with the terms reuse and recycling of products (Figure 1). Circular economy is a new philosophy of economic, technological, social and cultural significance. Unlike traditional linear economy which is based on the principle of take-make-use-dispose-pollute (Figure 1), circular economy is a new regenerating approach based on the circular processes in nature, where there is no waste but movement of matter. In nature, the waste generated in some process is food or raw material for another process. Circular economy, even in the stage of product design, plans what is going to happen with it after its life cycle ends. This model is a closed circular process which strives to reduce, reuse or recycle waste with the application of new advanced technologies, which have to be cheap, not spend too much energy and not generate additional pollution.
Figure 1. Transition from linear to circular economy
The textile industry produces textiles for conventional use (clothing, shoes, home textiles and textile products for personal use) and textile for nonconventional use (construction, medicine, farming, fishing, space technology, etc.). It is an industry with a huge negative impact on the environment. In the production of garments, fibers are used to make fabrics and knitted fabrics which are then sown into clothes. The pollution in all these phases is enormous. The production of natural fiber uses pesticides and defoliants, while the production of chemical fiber uses toxic chemicals or natural materials such as cellulose. The technologies for production of fabrics and knitted fabrics consume huge quantities of energy and spend 215 billion tonnes of water annually, which ends up in nature and pollutes it with chemicals, detergents and microfiber. When clothing is sewn, at least 15% of the fabric and the knitted fabric ends up in landfills as unused textile material. An additional problem is used clothing, which usually also ends in landfills. Every year clothes to the amount of 460 billion dollars are disposed at landfills. If the shelf span of clothes is doubled, then the emission of greenhouse gasses will drop by 44%.
The application of circular economy is an imperative if we want to solve these problems. Experience from around the world shows that first a strategy should be developed for the implementation of this concept in the production of new products; then new and innovative technologies need to be developed to put the finishing touches on the textile with the use of renewable chemicals and develop solutions for treatment of existing waste from textile factories and getting new products with added value.
The textile industry in RNM produces textiles and garments. The production of textiles pollutes rivers with wastewater from dyeing factories and textile finishing factories, while clothing manufacturers dispose at least 15% of fabrics and knitted fabrics during tailoring, thus producing around 700 tonnes of waste annually.
In order to implement the principles of circular economy in the textile industry in RNM, all stakeholders need to have knowhow and develop strategies for treatment of wastewater and leftovers from the textile industry even before the production starts. For this purpose, traditional production should be adapted to this concept, environmentally friendly sustainably sourced raw materials should be used, environmentally acceptable technologies for dyeing and finishing textiles should be developed, as well as procedures for treatment of textile waste from clothing factories. There is a lot to be done, but big changes start with small steps. Some pioneering steps are already undertaken in some scientific institutions, companies and NGOs which are making attempts to recycle textile waste for the first time.
The Institute for Textile Engineering with the FTM-Skopje is a pioneer in the development of environmental technologies for finishing textile materials with the applications of enzymes. It has developed technologies for treatment of clothes made of wool, cotton and lyocell in Teteks AD Tetovo, AD Alkaloid Berovo and Veteks AD Veles, which reduce the consumption of energy for finishing textiles, halve the pollution with wastewater and produce products with improved qualities.
In the last three years the laboratory for circular economy-based advanced materials (at FTM-Skopje) has been working on the project “Circular economy – a new approach to purification of coloured wastewater with the use of rice hulls”, which resulted in the first post-graduate thesis at FTM on circular economy and two papers published in international scientific journals. The project uses rice hulls to treat wastewater from dyeing factories, without the use of energy and chemicals for hull modification (Figure 2). The modified rice hulls are made into filters that will be used for treatment of wastewater from dyeing textile factories.
Figure 2. Circular economy as a model for modification of rice hulls and dyeing factories wastewater treatment
This laboratory is also conducting a NATO project for production of multifunctional textile materials that will be fire-resistant, antimycotic and will protect from UV light, with the application of renewable chemicals based on the concept of circular economy.
Another example of practical application of textile waste in value added products can be found in Shtip. As the town with the most developed textile industry in RNM, Shtip disposes around 100 tonnes of textile waste at the town landfill. In order to find a solution for part of this waste, the association INO TEH CLUB Shtip, together with the Goce Delchev University and the Local Community Development Foundation – Shtip (LCDF) are implementing the project “Circular economy as a model for managing textile waste in the Shtip municipality” funded by the Global Environment Facility, the Small Grants Programme (GEF-SGP). Thus, 6 tonnes of textile waste is used as stuffing for pillows, duvets and lazy bags instead of being disposed at landfills. This project is one of the few practical examples of using textile waste which is usually taken to landfills. It also encouraged other entities to start initiatives for using textile waste in the production of products with added value. A fashion show with products made of textile waste is organized as part of the project (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Fashion show for products made of textile waste
The Skopje-based company Netam also applies circular economy for the production of acoustic insulation materials from textile waste. This company, as the recipient of a grant from the Fund for innovation and technological development (FITR), in cooperation with the Faculty of Civil Engineering in Skopje, is producing insulation materials from textile waste that it gets from its regular production of duvets and pillows.
It can be concluded from the above that the textile industry in the country is a huge polluter, but there are encouraging first steps made in the application of circular economy principles, which has a huge potential for solving the problems with pollution and waste as well as for developing technological solutions that would will be environmentally-friendly, energy efficient and will not generate additional pollution.
About the Author
Dr. Igor Jordanov, PhD
Head of the Institute for Textile Engineering
Faculty of Technology and Metallurgy, Skopje
Ss. Cyril and Methodius University
With more than 20 years of professional experience, Dr. Igor Jordanov is a professor of materials and textile chemistry and Head of the Institute of Textile Engineering at Faculty of Technology and Metallurgy, Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, North Macedonia.
He is the author of more than 40 peer-reviewed papers indexed in Web of Science, 1 book chapter and many communications at national and international congresses.
His expertise includes the production of innovative and advanced multi-functional materials using ”green” eco-friendly technologies and renewable chemicals comprising surface modification of textiles with enzymes and oxidants; antimicrobial textiles based on natural renewable antimicrobial agents (e.g. chitosan from crustacean shells); recycling plastic through flame retardant filament extrusion; flame retardant, conductive, and antimicrobial materials made by layer-by-layer nanocoating deposition; and the latest, implementation of the rice husk as renewable materials for cleaning colored effluents based on the circular economy concept.
Dr. Jordanov has international experience as a doctoral researcher at the University of Ljubljana, a post-doctoral researcher at Gent University, and a post-doctoral researcher as a Fulbright visiting scholar at Texas A&M University in the USA.
Prof. Jordanov is a member of the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC), member of the Alumni Network of Gent University for Western Balkans (https://beeld.ugent.be/nl/fotoalbum/foto/z2014-168-006), member of Macedonian American Alumni Association (MAAA) and alumni of the Laboratory of Polymer Nano Composite at Texas A&M University (https://nanocomposites.tamu.edu/about-us/people/alumni/page/4).