UKFT is heading up a £4 million project to develop and pilot an automated sorting and pre-processing demonstrator for waste textiles.

The hope is that the two-year Autosort for Circular Textiles Demonstrator (ACT UK) could eventually divert thousands of tonnes from landfill each year. It aims to support the transition from the “uneconomic manual sorting of clothes and textiles that are not suitable for resale to highly-automated sorting and pre-processing, which can then be used as feedstock for existing and emerging recycling processes”.

One million tonnes of used textiles are generated each year in the UK, of which a third are estimated to be non-rewearable textiles (NRT) that are sent to landfill or incinerated or exported to be sorted in lower cost labour regions.

In the manual sorting of used textiles, it is not possible to identify the fibre composition by looking at it, and the removal of items such as buttons and zips have not been optimised, stated UKFT, a network of fashion and textile companies in the UK.

ACT UK will build on sorting approaches from countries such as the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. It will bring together and advance key technology components, including optical scanning, robotics, AI, pre-processing and size reduction equipment. 

Adam Mansell, CEO of UKFT, said: “What happens to our textiles when we no longer need them is a growing problem that we cannot ignore. With this groundbreaking project, we’re aiming to create a model to sort and prepare NRT for recycling in a way that’s never been done before, at scale. A national system of recycling plants could save 100,000s of tonnes of material from entering landfill. In turn, the system could generate huge volumes of material for use across the UK textile manufacturing sector.”

To find out how to participate in the project, please contact