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Smart Textile Material Classification System Developed at NTNU paves the Way for a Sustainable Fashion Future
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The rapid rise of online shopping and the pervasiveness of fast fashion have accelerated the turnover of clothing, exacerbating the already significant textile waste problem. According to the 2017 Copenhagen Fashion Summit industry report, approximately 90 million tons of textiles are produced globally each year, with a staggering 80 percent or more ending up in landfills or incinerators rather than being recycled.

In an effort to address this pressing issue, the NTNU Institute and Undergraduate Program of Electro-Optical Engineering (IEO) has developed a Smart Textile Material Classification System. This system uses near-infrared light rapid remote sensing combined with artificial intelligence algorithms to enhance the accuracy of waste textile sorting. This technological innovation will enable recyclers to provide high-grade recycled textiles to fiber mills downstream, contributing to the construction of a more sustainable textile recycling infrastructure.

The complexity of textile categories and impractically of manual identification pose significant challenges to the textile industry in effectively classifying waste textiles. The emergence of fast fashion has compounded this challenge, as the industry churns out vast quantities of cheaply made garments with shorter lifespans.

A McKinsey's report revealed that in 2018, the fashion industry generated 9.2 million tons of waste, with 85% of this waste requiring incineration, a practice that counters contemporary Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) trends.
The IEO’s intelligent sorting technology, a project commissioned by the Department of Industrial Technology (DoIT) of the Ministry of. Economic Affairs, represents a significant stride towards carbon neutrality. The resultant startup, 'Pade Sustainable Technology Co., Ltd.', is pioneering a sustainable textile ecosystem using the Smart Textile Recycling Number. This initiative aims to redirect textiles from landfills and incineration to diverse sustainable uses, addressing the inefficiencies and inaccuracies of manual sorting that compromise the quality and economic viability of recycled materials.

As textile technology evolves, there has been a shift from natural fibers to more functional and cost-effective synthetic materials. This shift has propelled the fast fashion movement, but has also resulted in a drastic decline in the average lifespan of textile products, contributing significantly to waste generation. The industry's reliance on petrochemical-based materials like polyester fiber PET not only exacerbates pollution, but also demands significant water resources and contributes to carbon emissions.

In light of the pressing issues of climate change and resource depletion, there's an urgent need to reevaluate the 'use and discard' mentality prevalent in our disposable economy. Both consumers and industries must collectively embrace sustainable practices by incorporating advanced textile technologies with recycling and conservation efforts, in order to safeguard natural resources and achieve a more stable and sustainable environmental footprint.

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