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CafePress - Rubbish - 100% Cotton T-Shirt

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Account icon An icon in the shape of a person's head and shoulders. It often indicates a user profile. Pigments made by Algalife have similar benefits, plus the added benefit of being created from renewable sources, says Krebs. You can even drink the dye they produce, she says. Algalife is now working with a major retail fashion brand and hope to have clothes made from algae in stores by 2021. We need to slow down, take a little time to reconnect with our clothes and appreciate them again,” says Press. “Remember that whatever you are wearing, it took both physical and creative resources to make it.” If you were brutal, you’ll probably manage to fill a bin-bag or two with clothes you no longer want or need. But what then? After working for years at a design company in Germany, Renana Krebs saw behind the scenes how poor the textiles and clothing industry is for the environment. She vowed to do something about it and in 2016, she started Algalife, making fibres and dyes from algae.

Open your wardrobe and be honest. How long was it since you last wore some of those clothes? Do you think it might be time for a clear out? One option is to create new types of materials altogether, from different sources, that either won’t have the same impact on the environment or might be easier to recycle. Some are even looking at turning other types of waste – such as off milk – into clothing. The key advantages over conventional methods include simpler processing of textiles, the elimination of pre-manufactured dyes and opportunities for multiple colours to be achieved through simple alteration of processing conditions,” she says.

Prajapati and her colleagues have been developing processes that use enzymes so that textile dyes and patterning of fabrics can be done temperatures as low as 50C, at atmospheric pressure and pH conditions around neutral without the use of additional chemicals. But some are sceptical about how committed some large brands are to sustainability, accusing them of “greenwashing”, which the companies deny. One benefit is the algae are harvested in a closed system, meaning there is no freshwater used in the process at all. All the algae need to grow is water and sunlight. By extracting natural colourings from different types of algae, Krebs and her team have been able to combine these with enzymes and fixative agents – which help to bind the pigment to a fabric – from synthetic and natural sources, including oak galls, pomegranate rind and juniper needles. Currently most textiles are coloured using synthetic dyes, which are petroleum derivatives, and patterned with complex processes. These processes can require temperatures of up to 100C for cotton, nylon and wool, but higher for polyester and other synthetic fibres. On top of this, the process requires high pressures, long processing times and the use of additional chemicals such as acids and alkalis, which are harmful towards the environment in large quantities. This system puts pressure on valuable resources such as water, pollutes the environment and degrades ecosystems in addition to creating societal impacts on a global scale.”

Indeed, most of the recycled polyester being used now by leading fashion brands in fact comes from bottles rather than old clothing. The majority is sent for recycling in some way, but about six tonnes of the garments are of such poor quality they are simply torn up so they can be used as industrial cleaning clothes and stuffing for mattresses or car seats.Lin and her team have since refined the process so it can be done on a larger scale using industrially produced cellulose enzymes, and have been working with the clothing retailer H&M to examine what impact this recycling process might have on its textile waste. They have also been able to produce fibres that can turned into yarns by purifying proteins from the algae or even using them to produce a bio-oil that can be turned into bioplastic fibres. The current fashion system uses high volumes of non-renewable resources, including petroleum, extracted to produce clothes that are often used only for a short period of time, after which the materials are largely lost to landfill or incineration,” says Chetna Prajapati, who studies ways of making sustainable textiles at Loughborough University in the UK. So while recycling and more sustainable fabrics will be a key part of the solution, consumers too will need to change their behaviour if we hope to lessen the impact that the fashion industry is having on our planet. Currently, however, very few of the clothes that are sent to be recycled are actually turned into new clothing – a process known as “material to material” recycling. Old wool jumpers, for example, can be turned into carpets, cashmere can be recycled into suits. But as of 2015, less than 1% of used clothing was recycled in this way.

Austrian researchers have also developed techniques using enzymes that allow them to turn old wool clothing into a material that can be used as a resin or adhesive. Fibre recycling technologies do exist, but they are only used on a small scale. Generally, the techniques can be separated into mechanical and chemical recycling.There has been success on a smaller scale to effectively separate natural and synthetic blends and capture both types of fibres, without losing either fibre in the process. However, scaling up this technology to an industrial scale remains the challenge. The company then spins these fibres into yarns, which it says have a silk-like texture. These can then be used to make jersey or woven fabrics, or other textiles like felt. Crucially, when a garment made completely from QMilk fibres is no longer wanted, it can simply be composted at home, Domaske says.

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