Building Fashion’s Future: How to turn textiles’ wastes into ecological building products

Format: Papers, RSD7, Topic: Socioecological Design

Authors: Giordano Roberto, Montacchini Elena, Tedesco Silvia

Recycling and reusing textile wastes
Ecological building products
Textile recycling scenarios

The textile is play a crucial role in the third economic sector in several Euro- pean Countries. The fashion industry is considered as a benchmark of excel- lence in Italy and Italian fashion revenues are remarkable (Crivelli, 2017). But at the same time the textile system is extremely polluting and wasteful (Ellen Macarthur foundation, 2017). A large amounts of non-renewable resources are extracted to produce textiles; dioxide carbon emissions are realised in several stages over the textile’s life cycle; special wastes are landfilled (Wicker, 2016) both in upstream process (afterwards the production and the delivering) as well as in downstream process (once the textile is used). Less of 1% of materials used to produce clothes becomes part of a closed-loop recycling and less of 2% are recycled in other industrial activities. This is likely due to the currently manufacturing system that operates trough an almost linear way (Ellen Macarthur foundation, 2017).

Although the framework highlighted some good practices have been alrea- dy carried out, showing how it possible use textile wastes in several sectors, including the building one. Building sector is only apparently far away from the fashion industry. A well known example of open loop recycling of fa- shion wastes used in construction is the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop. The thermal insulation materials have been made with over 200.000 pairs of discarded jeans.
Transforming the textile industry according to Systemic Design principles is therefore possible, proposing a well known but fundamentally change: wastes and by-products due their properties might be assumed as inputs of new production systems. Such methodological approach makes it possible to meet the circular economy goals set out in current European Directive (European Parliament, 2018).

Based on these premises a research project titled EDILTEX (Carbonaro C. et al, 2018) – Innovation for reusing in textile companies – was carried out. The project was aimed at meeting needs to reducing environmental impacts of Small Medium Enterprises, in two textile and fashion districts (Tuscany and Lombardy). DAD’s research team of Politecnico di Torino was partner of the project dealing with some aspects related to reuse and recycling processes. The research was developed with the economic support of Fondimpresa in- ter-professional fund. Commitment and collaboration were implementedsharing knowledge, analysing the production systems and defining diffe- rent waste disposal opportunities.
Bearing in mind the Systemic design objectives the research was split-up into stages: Need findings; Ideation and Prototyping; Monitoring; and newBusiness Strategy.

Needs were pursued through environmental audits in order to point out themost important manufacturing findings and in order to characterise the wastes proprieties and how wastes could be reused and recycled (see figure 1).Matching the information collected in the ideation stage three scenarioswere outlined. The first scenario was focused to enhancing textile wastesas Secondary Raw Materials (SRM) and/or by-products in existing recycling companies. Some opportunities were investigated (i.e. the manufacturing of building insulations materials for acoustic purposes) according to SRM features.

The second scenario was addressed to enhancing the textile wastes in on-line markets (market places). Within such the reuse or recycling chances are not predetermined. They depend on the supply-demand balance.
Finally, the third scenario was aimed at developing new building mate- rials, basically through two activities trough a material sorting process and afterward trough a concept design.
The material sorting and concept have highlighted some physical properties such as: density; thermal conductivity; sound absorption coefficient. Onthe basis of the performances provided by the wastes further activities addressed to prototyping were planned. Two experiments were developed and some interesting achievements concerning the activities carried out were reached.

Some textile wastes (artificial fibres) were used as additive in the manufacturing of clay based plaster. Fabrics were shredded and dosed in defined quantity in the mix design of a selected number of samples featured with different densities. The research outlooks to improve the tensile strength and the alkali resistance. The shredded fabrics should absorb the tension on ceilings and walls and they should prevent cracks in the plaster.
Some polyester wadding wastes have been tested in order to assess their acoustic insulation potential. The wadding becomes the inner part of acou- stic screen enables to improve the reverberation in rooms. The external surface is featured with leather or textile surpluses. Particularly leather isan easy maintaining material and overall it has self fire extinguishing cha- racteristics. The concept and the prototyping were conceived as a building furniture shaped as a flat pillow sewed at the edges; the reuse of different trimmings allow to get a unique pattern in term of size and colour.

Monitoring is ongoing (will end by the second semester of 2019). The first tests carried out show that some requirements – normally taken into account in plasters and insulation panels – were met, demonstrating the potentiality to generate a zero wastes system and promoting symbiotic processes between only apparently disparate industrial sectors.
Finally, the business strategy definition has been focusing on the characteri-zation of the value proposition as well as on the fine tuning of the recyclingand reusing system. The transition from a linear production process to a circular one entails the implementation of current wastes collection and processing systems. Designing the supply chain is crucial part of the business strategy shared with the Small Medium Enterprises; Thus their wastes can be effectively exploited as secondary raw materials in an other manufacturing systems.

On the whole the outcomes show that a new perspective in textile production is actionable. It is based on the principles of circular economy and in accordance to a systemic approach matching together sectors such as fashion and building. Despite it is required to managing properly situations of complexity and uncertainty in which there are no simple answers and lot of efforts are still necessary a systemic addition is however possible: building and fashion makes “building the fashion future”.


Crivelli G., Textile and fashion industry generates half of Italy’s trade surplus, Il Sole 24 ore digital edition, May 2017.

Ellen Macarthur foundation, A new textiles economy. Redesign fashion’s future, Decem-ber 2017.

Wicker A., Fast fashion is creating an environmental crisis, Newsweek, September 2016

Circular Fibres Initiative analysis, in: Ellen Macarthur foundation, A new textiles eco-nomy. Redesign fashion’s future, December 2017.

Directive (EU) 2018/851 of the European Parliament and of the council of 30 May 2018 amending Directive 2008/98/EC on waste.

Carbonaro C., Giordano R., Montacchini E., Muñ oz M., Tedesco S., EDILTEX; new buil-ding materials from textile wastes. An experience of industrial symbiosis practices, in: 24th International Sustainable Development Research Society Conference action for a sustainable world: from theory to practice. Messina, June 2018.

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Citation Data

Author(s): OCTOBER 2018
Title: Building Fashion’s Future: How to turn textiles’ wastes into ecological building products
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
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First published: 2 October 2018
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