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Old And Unwanted Clothes Can Be Turned Into Tough Panels Of Water And Fire Resistant Building Materials

Used and unwanted clothes could be turned into water and fire resistant building material instead of being sent to landfill, researchers say.

Experts are experimenting with fabric waste and turning it into solid material in the hope that it will be used in construction.

The panels proved to be durable, as well as water and flame resistant, properties which could be fine tuned depending on the fibres used in their manufacture.

The recycling scheme aims to reduce the millions of unwanted garments that are thrown out after only an average of two years use.

Science professor Veena Sahajwalla and her team at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

Her team collected the items from charity bins and removed any solid parts – including belts, buckles and zips.

Professor Sahajwalla, who also directs the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology, put the mix of cotton, polyester, nylon and other fabrics through a fine-grained shredder.

Researchers then treated the material with a chemical to help the different fibre components stick together.

The fibres were then compresses under heat to form the panels, which  for floors and walls.

The group is the first to turn clothes into building material but researchers are trialling recycling them into soft mats for use as heat and noise insulators inside flooring and walls.

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One challenge they now face converting mixtures of different clothes into panels with the right properties.

‘It might just be a case of needing to mix in more of a particular component if you want to adjust the properties,’ Professor Sahajwalla told New Scientist.

Last year, a study commissioned by Sainsburys supermarket found that three-quarters of consumers throw away unwanted garments rather than recycle or donate them.

The annual fashion detox of wardrobes means that millions of garments go to landfill every year causing toxic greenhouse gases as they gradually decompose.

The panels go through a series of testing and so far have proved to be strong, water resistant and minimally flammable.

The properties of these panels can also be changed by mixing the  material with sawdust filler from old couches.

Depending o their mix of components the panels could be used as floor tiles, wall panels and decorative interior finishings as the colours resemble wood, stone and ceramic.

Sahajwalla’s team are hoping to commercialise on their innovation by building a small factory in the basement of their building to see if the recycling effort could be scaled up.

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