Europe currently recycles just one per cent of its used textiles.
Shoes are composed of multiple difficult-to-separate materials like polyester, foam and leather, and so are particularly difficult to recycle.
But the recycling industry is rapidly innovating.
Launched in Hendaye in southwest France, Cetia is the world’s first ‘innovation platform’ that can automatically remove the sole of a shoe.
This machine uses a near infrared sensor to detect the material of the garment quite accurately – whether it’s 80 per cent cotton, 20 per cent polyester or 50/50,” says Chloé Salmon Legagneur, director of Cetia.
“It allows us to detect this and to put together all the materials that have the same composition in the right bin,” she explains.
How can AI help with textile recycling?
The European Union has set ambitious textile recycling targets. By 2030, it intends to set a minimum content of recycled fibres in the composition of textiles.
But clothes and shoes are difficult to dismantle and sort – meaning when they are recycled, it is often into household padding or bitumen, which can be used for things like road surfacing and roofing.
The industry wants this to change.
“Brands tell us ‘I want the material from my products to be recycled in my industry, not as insulation or flooring’,” says Legagneur.