Recycled Cotton | Benefits and Challenges of Cotton Recycling


In the sustainability context, recycle cotton is a popular topic with high interest of manufacturers, brands and retailers. For the entire supply chain of textile, recycled cotton can play a vital role to fulfill the goal of sustainability. Cotton is the most popular and comfortable fiber that is used around 56% of total fiber uses across the world. It has reliable quality performance as it is versatile, breathable and very comfortable to wear off.

Conventional cotton harvesting involves use of large scale pesticides,, herbicides and fertilizers that cause to harm the whole environment. In addition, cotton harvesting and processing requires huge amount of water that is left as wastewater cause harm for aquatic lives. 

For sustainable cotton harvesting there are some concept already exists like Organic Cotton( GOTS of OCS Certified cotton), Fairtrade cotton and Better Cotton (BCI). Besides the organic, Fairtrade and BCI cotton the new concept is recycled or regenerated cotton. It is not that much new as it was initiated in the beginning of 21st century and still continues with more and more research. 

Recycled cotton prevents unnecessary wastage and can be a more sustainable alternative to disposal. It can come from secondhand clothing or from textile waste or leftovers which are eventually spun into new yarns and then fabric. It is also commonly referred to as regenerated cotton or reclaimed cotton. Basically the sources of cotton recycling are two types: Pre-consumer cotton and Post-consumer cotton.


Pre-consumer cotton: Includes wastage in yarn production, fabric, garments cutting room or so on that are not used for any clothing

Post-consumer Cotton: Includes used garments, upholstery, towels, household items.

In fact, the largest share of the source is pre-consumer waste.

Process of Cotton Recycling: It is all together mechanical recycling method. The wastes are collected and then sorted into colors as they are already dyed. After sorting, the fabrics or other kind of pre consumer wastages are run through  a machine that shreds them into yarn and further into raw fiber. This is a critical process and puts a great deal of strain on the fiber thus it becomes weaken and entangled during shredding.  

The raw fibers is then spun into yarns for reuse in the other products. Since the quality will not be the same as original cotton thus it is spun with other fibers as blend. Most common blend happens with virgin cotton and polyester. The fiber length and uniformity will be impacted which leads to limit of the end use application.

Use of Recycled Cotton:
It is frequently blended with some other fibers to make fabric or other textiles, creating sustainable environmental friendly product. Recycled cotton can be used in industrial settings for polishing. It is popular to be made high quality paper with recycled cotton. The papers used for high command official purposes are mostly made of recycled cotton. It is also used for seat stuffing and automotive insulation in the industry of automobiles. Now Denim fabric mills are using recycle poly as a new concept under sustainable umbrella for the high interest of Brands and Retailers.

Benefits of Cotton Recycling:
  • It can be used for insulation, rags of stuffing where it appears with new life cycle.
  • Recycling process prevent unwanted wastage that can divert many products from landfills. According to the Council for Textile Recycling, annual textile waste is estimated about 25 billion pounds.
  • Since it is already colored so after recycling further coloring is not required
  • The amount of energy, water and dyestuff use is reduced since recycled cotton yarns most commonly are sourced from pre-consumer textiles that are sorted by color.
  • Reduce the emission of CO2 and other fossil fuel.

Challenges of Cotton Recycling:
  • Since Cotton becomes weaken during recycling it must be blended with other fibers to be produced new yarn with required strength and durability and therefore it can not recycled further.
  • Any amount of recycled product will impact the yarn and fabric properties such as length, strength, evenness and uniformity.
  • Cost is generally higher than the standard cotton processing
  • Test results are not that much good.
  • In a product not more than 30% recycled cotton can be used.
  • Consumer interest to buy recycled cotton product with higher price is less.

After all, Cotton is a fiber that is naturally biodegradable, based on a study of North Carlina State University of USA, more that 75% cotton decomposed in soil within 273 days of dumping. So it is naturally a sustainable fiber all together. 

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