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About

Textile
Recycling

New ideas for a wasteful industry

Not even one percent of used clothing is recycled into new textile fibers. Textile recycling is still in its early days. Recycling textiles is a challenge because they often consist of a wide variety of materials. The established recycling technologies can hardly separate such mixed fibers. Often, therefore, old textiles end up in landfills or in thermal recycling, which simply means that they are burned.
From the dump
to eternity
Ucon Acrobatics is committed to overcoming the many obstacles to scaling and establishing textile recycling as a new standard, like plastic bottle recycling before it.
TEXTILE RECYCLING
in 2021
<1%

CIRCULAR ECONOMY

14%

DOWNCYCLING

19%

BURNING

66%

LANDFILLED

Embracing circular economy

Closing the Loop
on Waste

Our recycling methods

Ucon Acrobatics is committed to overcoming the many obstacles to scaling and establishing textile recycling as the new standard, as plastic bottle recycling was previously.

Fiber-to-Filler Recycling

One option for using blended fibers is fiber-to-filler recycling. In this downcycling process, textile waste is shredded or processed into smaller pieces that can be used as filler for various products such as pillows, mattresses or insulation. Ucon Acrobatics finds this type of recycling used in the non-visible parts of bags and backpacks, instead of regular PE foams.

Fiber-to-Fiber Recycling

If textiles consist of a mono-material then there are methods to recover the material. One of the options with the greatest potential is chemical fiber-to-fiber recycling. This process can recycle textiles that consist of at least 80% polyester. This results in yarns made from 100% recycled PET in very high quality.
Textile recycling
step-by-step
How do old textiles become new products?
Fiber-to-Fiber
Recycling
Textile waste Rough shredded
>80% PET
Chemical Recycling
Depolymerization
under pressure at 200°C
Granulate 100% recycled PET
Filament 100% recycled PET
Felt or fabric 100% recycled PET
Textile wasteRough shredded
Mixed source
Textile waste Fine shredded
Felt Mixed source
FIBER-TO-FILLER
‍Recycling
Application
How can these two recycling methods be used in one product?
We'll show you how we do it at Ucon Acrobatics using the Hajo Mini Backpack as an example. The numbers of the outer material differ depending on the series.
Fiber-To-Fiber recycling
Chemical upcycling of textile waste from pre-consumer and post-consumer sources. The result is 100% recycled PET from textile waste.
FIBER-tO-FILLER Recycling
The result is felt material from mixed components such as polyester, cotton or elastane.
Textile Recycling Rate
per Material
Outer material front 50 - 95%
Outer material back 100%
Laptop compartment 100%
Inner lining 100%
Stabilization 100%
Filler 100%
Filler shoulder strap 100%
Information about the
composition of materials
What does that mean for a Hajo Mini Backpack from the Lotus Infinity series? We have packed it into numbers for those who want to know exactly.

Weight of a Hajo Mini Backpack Lotus Infinity
930 g

Total weight of product without packaging

Recycled textile waste to make product
678 g

Total amount of textiles which got recycled to make product - including production waste of all suppliers

Recycled material waste rate of product
70,0%

Recycled waste (textile and plastic bottles) contained in  product in percent (based on the actual product weight)

Upcycled textile waste rate of product
47,0%

Recycled textile waste contained in a product in percent (based on the actual product weight) that increased its quality during recycling process

Downcycled textile waste rate of product
13,5%

Recycled textile waste contained in a product in percent (based on the actual product weight) that decreased its quality during recycling process

Recycled textile waste rate of all textiles components
82,0%

Recycled textile waste contained in all textile parts of a product (based on the actual product weight)

Recycled textile waste rate of all textiles components from post-consumer textiles
40,9%

Textile waste mainly from uniform which were used in schools and hospitals before based on all textile parts of product (based on the actual product weight)

Recycled textile waste rate of all textiles components from pre-consumer textiles
19,7%

Textile waste mainly from industrial textile waste collected at garment factories (e.g. cutting waste) based on all textile parts of product (based on the actual product weight)

Mono material rate of product
74,5%

Component rate from a single material (PET) to make recycling as easy as possible

Textile recycling -
our path to the circular economy

Until now, we have lived in a linear textile economy based on the principle of 'take - make - use - throw away'. We need to take massive steps towards a circular economy for textiles.

Since mid-2023, Ucon Acrobatics has been gradually transforming its entire production with the aim of making all products recyclable. Textile recycling is the key to this, as it allows us to recycle products again at the end of their use. This is already possible today if a product consists of more than 80% PET. The higher the PET content, the less energy is needed for recycling.

But we don't want to think about the whole thing only from the end and already manufacture our products from old textiles. To achieve this, we will make the materials we use in our entire product range from the highest possible percentage of recycled textiles.

We do not compromise on this. The granules we use for yarn production are made of 100% PET from recycled textiles - and not just 20% to save costs, as is the case with other brands. Despite the higher production costs, we want to move forward because we see the circular economy as one of the great tasks of our time.

We always prefer to produce mono-materials to increase recycling rates at the end of the life cycle. We aim to manufacture products from 100% mono-materials recycled from waste from our own industry.
FAQ
Frequently asked questions about textile recycling

What is fiber-to-filler recycling?

It is a downcycling process where textile fibers are transformed into fillers or stuffing materials instead of ending up in landfills or getting burned. They cannot be upcycled because the material compositions are mixed up completely (e.g. cotton with polyester and elastane). In this process, textile waste is shredded or processed into smaller pieces that can be used as filling material for various products such as pillows, mattresses or insulation materials.

What does ‘from landfill to filler’ mean?

The slogan refers to the process of diverting waste materials from ending up in landfills and reusing them as fillers. In the process, discarded materials are transformed into useful fillers, giving them a new purpose and reducing the amount of waste going to landfills.

What does it mean for our products?

Mixed textiles are hard to recycle and often end up in landfills or get burned. We have found a way to put them to good use. They are incorporated as filling materials in non-visible parts of our bags and backpacks.

How can waste be used as fillers on bags & backpacks?

We look where others don’t look. In the past, we followed the industry standard and also used PP boards (Polypropylene) and PE foams (Polyethylene) as fillers in our backpacks. They are used to make a backpack stiff and soft at the time. We were successful in replacing them with felt material from mixed textile waste. This saves 4-5% of virgin fossil materials per backpack.

What is fiber-to-fiber recycling?

Fiber-to-fiber recycling is a closed-loop process where used textile fibers are transformed into new fibers for creating new textile products, reducing waste and maximizing material reuse. The process we use is called chemical recycling.

What is chemical recycling?

It is a special method of textile recycling in which synthetic fibers such as polyester are broken down into their original chemical building blocks and then used to make new synthetic fibers. 

The chemical recycling process we use is based on glycolysis. It uses ethylene glycol to depolymerize (under pressure at 200°C) and is still an early-stage technology. Our first production in 2023 still runs on pilot plans and therefore is double the price towards bottle-to-fiber recycling.

What is the potential of chemical recycling?

It will be a game changer for the textile industry. It is one of the most sustainable and scalable levers available. Once fully mature, estimates indicate that 70% of textile waste could be fiber-to-fiber recycled.
More information: Scaling textile recycling in Europe–turning waste into value, McKinsey, 2022

What are the limits for chemical recycling?

Chemical recycling nowadays needs an input with 80% material purity. In our case, this means we need to have textiles with 80% polyester and max. 20% other fibers e.g. cotton. Also, the energy consumption is higher than when you recycle plastic bottles in mechanical recycling. The higher the material purity the less energy is needed for chemical recycling. That’s why our goal is to make products from pure mono-fibers such as 100% PET.

How much energy is needed for the chemical recycling process?

Even so, more energy is needed than when recycling plastic bottles, but it’s roughly 4x times less than that you need to put in virgin material. Numbers provided by Intertech show that the cumulative energy demand for 1kg of polyester chips from virgin polyester is 72 MJ (Megajoule). That of polyester chips from recycled textiles in chemical recycling (by glycolysis method) is only 16 MJ. We assume the process will become more efficient over the years.

How much of the chemical recycling is really inside your yarns?

We're going all out here! 100% of the yarns we gain in fiber-to-fiber recycling are from recycled textiles. We believe that we can only help to establish this technology when we buy large amounts. Other brands use an amount of 5-20% only and still sell it as ‘recycled from textiles’. This is mainly because the costs are double for yarns made from bottle-to-fiber recycling.

Where does the textile waste come from?

Today it is still difficult to buy old clothing with only certain ingredients. The development of a uniform take-back system for textiles is not yet established. The material composition is still a matter of luck. For our chemical recycling process to run most efficiently, we need a high percentage of polyester. So half of the textiles come from used school and hospital uniforms and the other half are leftovers from cutting material of the garment industry. To save emissions in transportation this textile waste is sourced from China too. All of them are REACH compatible!

Are you using textile waste from your production?

That is still a lot of material that is wasted, even when you consider that other waste is generated during material production. We are working with our suppliers to return the waste material to a closed-loop process soon wherever possible.

Why are you not using leftover products to re-cut them into new products?

The very most items we produce were demanded by our customers, so there are no leftovers. Sometimes we discontinue products, so they get sold for a discounted price. Even items that get returned, get sold again after we have cleaned and checked them. The number of defective items which cannot be used again is very small – and would not have a positive effect on emissions if we send them back to our recycling facility in China.

Can I return my old product so it can get recycled?

Through our innovative measures, Ucon Acrobatics is already achieving extremely high rates of over 90% of recycled textiles per product by weight. Thus, numerous products would already meet the criteria of "recyclable" or "circular". There is still no uniform take-back system for textiles close to every household yet. We support the process that the European Union plans to establish. Sending back products to us would cause additional emissions.