The ability to use a mixture of textile waste resources and convert them into building application products. Shows that there are endless possibilities. So here’s an example of tile that we produce
that has got a combination of a couple of different types of waste materials. And in this instance we’ve got glass coupled
with textiles and that just adds so much more color. We can create and reform these new mixtures
that we’ve created into hybrid panels for the built environment. It’s a whole new opportunity and a whole new
world that looks at transformation of textiles in a completely different dimension. Considered the alchemist of waste, Veena Sahajwalla
has been exploring its hidden potential on a molecular level. Where I grew up in Mumbai, it’s the industrial
heartland of India. People are very creative and they like to be able to take advantage
of every bit of material and product. We don’t appreciate enough value that is
embedded in our waste materials. That’s really one of the reasons
why I’m so passionate about it. I think we can do so much more and create
so much more value out of waste. As an engineer and materials scientist, she’s
built a career rerouting the world’s most problematic waste streams. She’s invented green steel, a technique
that uses shredded rubber tires to make the iron needed for steel. She’s also spun up an electronic waste microfactory
to tackle that mountain of waste, using modular systems to capture micromaterials from discarded
cell phones. And now, she’s turning her attention to
textiles. Because it’s gotten way too easy to buy
new clothes these days. There’s a constant flood of new items at
your fingertips and it’s all part of a speed up that’s happening in the fashion industry. The tonnage of waste, the numbers are simply
mind boggling. We’re talking about many, many millions of tons of waste materials. Some of the world’s largest clothing manufacturers
produce as many as 900 million items per year. And so we’re buying more clothes at lower
quality, using them for shorter periods of time, and then throwing them away. And that disposal loop is becoming a huge
problem. If you’re in the United States, roughly ten times more clothes are going into landfills today than in the 1960s. But Veena thinks there’s potential here,
even with those discarded 7 dollar shirts. A lot of the materials that go into manufacturing
our garments are indeed synthetic materials. So just because they don’t continue their
life as a garment because they’ve fallen apart doesn’t mean that the fundamental fibers
that are there in these garments are no longer useful. What is really fascinating is when you actually zoom in and look at it at a deeper level you can indeed look at it, as a collection
of molecules. That in fact presents so many different opportunities. With that kind of thinking, Veena and her
team invented a method that captures the molecular properties from discarded items and turns
them into building panels. When our garments come to us, there’s more
than just the textile in our clothes. We have, for example, zippers and buttons. The start of the journey for us has been about removing some of these other products so that we can focus in and look at textile itself. Then literally
zoom down and break it down into those microfibrils. Not all waste textiles deliver high level
performance. And this is why we’ve got to be very selective
in understanding what kind of properties we want. You know what are the different types of chemical
reactions that would occur if these different mixtures were to react with each other. Once they’ve got the textiles sorted, they’ll
incorporate recycled glass and wood into the mix to create an optimum blend. That then gives us the ability to use them
as structural products. And that strength can in fact be derived from
waste wood and can be derived from waste glass. So in fact, suddenly a mixture is not a bad
thing for recycling and reforming. It could well be a really, really good thing. That then becomes, in fact, the starting point for
the process, which requires us to apply heat and pressure. We have to have our fleece materials located
inside the mold. And that hot press really allows us to apply
the heat and pressure that’s required to ultimately create the finished product. The product then cools down, it forms into
that nice integrated structure that’s been bonded together and then it’s ready to be
extracted out of the press and ready to be trialed and tested. These building materials are piloted in Veena’s
microfactory, and the hope is that they’ll be used as tiles and interior finishes in your home one day. What we are doing of course, is going beyond
the traditional three r’s as people know is reduce, reuse, recycle. We can actually go beyond traditional recycling
and think about a fourth r, that we like to call reform, which means that we can really
reform the structure, we can reform that chemistry. No matter how many technologies we develop. I think we have to also take some responsibility
into our own hands. we need to ask the question, do we really
need so many different types of clothing items? Do we need to really go out there and purchase
the next best thing? It’s not good enough for us to think, well,
just because we’ve thrown away our old clothes that we’ve done our bit. That’s really why it’s so important for us
to look at our waste resources and the ability to transform into different types of products.
Looking at micro recycling ultimately has to be governed by the principles that we are
developing economies of purpose bringing our materials back to life over and over again
actually then further promotes and develops circular economy. And that notion of a circular economy is a
major part of Veena’s mission. Because it’s not just about making new building
materials or extracting materials from cell phones, it’s about rethinking our global
supply chain altogether. Having small and modular systems that can
be fine tuned in terms of the operations is what a microfactory is all about. The ability to actually take locally available
waste materials like textiles and waste glass for instance, gives us a whole range of possibilities
to create those local industries where you can actually apply your creativity as well
as of course engineering strengths. What that then does is allow you to create
a win-win outcome, both from an environmental point of view as well as delivering economic
benefits into the local region. What we are really talking about here is creating
those supply chains that make those resources so valuable and so useful that really no
one wants to even think about disposal. This whole journey of circular economy will
allow us to think very differently about our waste resources and never think of them as
an environmental burden. For more science documentaries, check out this one right here Don’t forget to subscribe and keep coming back to Seeker for more videos.