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A polyester-dissolving process could make modern clothing recyclable  

Nevertheless, the process could be difficult to scale, says Bryan Vogt, a chemical engineer at Penn State University, who was not involved in the study. That’s because the solvent used to break down polyester is expensive and difficult to recover after use. Further, according to Andini, even though BHET is easily turned back into clothing, it’s less clear what to do with the leftover fibers. Nylon could be especially tricky, as the fabric is degraded significantly by the team’s chemical recycling technique. 

“We are chemical engineers, so we think of this process as a whole,” says Andini. “Hopefully, once we are able to get pure components from each part, we can transform them back into yarn and make clothes again.” 

Andini, who just received a fellowship for entrepreneurs, is developing a business plan to commercialize the process. In the coming years, she aims to launch a startup that will take the clothes recycling technique out of the lab and into the real world. That could be a significant step toward reducing the large amounts of textile waste in landfills. “It’ll be a matter of having the capital or not,” she says, “but we’re working on it and excited for it.” 

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