Limbo Fan / Sun Staff Photographer

April 25, 2017

Sustainable Design Team Hopes to Reduce Textile Waste With ‘Fiberizer’

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A design and research team from the College of Human Ecology has found an answer to the one of the textile industry’s greatest problems.

The problem is textile waste and the answer the Fiberizer v.2, a machine that challenges the national problem of textile waste by taking old garments and recycling them into reusable fabric.

The team — organized by Prof. Tasha Lewis, fiber science and apparel design — consisted of students from fiber science and apparel design, design and environmental analysis, physics, mechanical and aerospace engineering, and materials science and engineering.

“The idea came from a collaboration I had with a company making new clothing from the used clothing exported and sold in Haiti,” Lewis said. “This company upcycled clothing in a local factory and wanted a way to deal with the fabric waste left over after the new garment was made.”

Lewis said that the company asked her and her team if they could develop solutions that would help to eliminate the waste by recycling it for another purpose.

“It took us a week to get a presentable machine,” said Rayne Milner ’17, a member of the Fiberizer team. “We had to assemble the frame from aluminum and plexiglass, set up motors to control the fiberizing mechanism and the conveyor through a series of pulleys and belts. Assembling the machine so that all the moving parts connected and worked together was very difficult.”

The project was funded by a Walmart Foundation U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund grant that Lewis secured for the team.

Their project specifically targets the small and damaged textile waste that could not be otherwise put to use. So far, the machine has had an extensive array of purposes, creating products for domestic use and for the outdoors.

“This project is important because it is redefining how we think about recycling and reusing,” Milner said. “The Fiberizer is really just a re-designed paper shredder, but the excitement and interest surrounding the machine is incredible. It is a great example of the growing interest with sustainable design.”

Lewis also established a partnership with Green Eileen, a recycled clothing initiative of Eileen Fisher, Inc., which aims to reduce the textile industry’s environmental impact. Green Eileen donates all the garments used in the Fiberizer project, and in return the team provides the company with fiber samples and end-product recommendations, Lewis said.

“For the next steps, we plan to refine the Fiberizer’s operation and capability to make sure it can handle a variety of fabrics,” Lewis said. “We are working to ensure the machine can fiberize all the types of fabrics found in our closets, and this is a huge challenge.”

The team will continue to “work out kinks in the design” and make refinements to the current model.

“There is hopefully enough interest and money that we may be able to make a third fiberizer and beyond,” Milner said. “The goal is to have many fiberizers available to produce so they could use them in design and eventually use them to process large amounts of material for repurposing.”