How Is Cotton Recycled?

Updated July 19, 2017

Cotton is a natural fibre that is derived from the cotton plant, is native to the tropics of Africa, Asia, Australia and America.The plant makes these fibres to shield the seeds from harm so they are carried on the wind, scattering the seeds over wide areas. Cotton can be recycled to cut back on costs, as well as the chemically dependent process of manufacturing clothes.

Source of Recycled Cotton

Recycled cotton is collected from several places -- from the scraps after weaving, leftover pieces cut before assembling clothing and through mass collection (as in Goodwill and thrift stores). Additionally, the manufacturers collect excess yarn to use in the recycling process. By using cotton from these sources, manufacturers don't have to harvest, spin and dye new cotton.

The Process

The workers in the manufacturing plants manually sort the clothing by colour; this bypasses the use of chemical treatments. The clothing is mechanically shredded to create non-woven fibres, which then goes into a large drum where it is chopped into a thin floss. The thin floss looks similar to cotton after harvest. These fibres are shorter than new cotton fibres because of how they were chopped. The machines then put all these fibres into a large cotton bale. (See Ref 4)


Workers combine the large cotton bales with similar bales of recycled PET (polythene terephthalate) fibres in a special room. The knitting and weaving process at this point is the same as for new cotton. The fibres undergo carding, combing, roving, spinning and weaving/knitting. Carding is pulling the fibres into alignment, while combing is removing the shorter fibres and impurities. Roving is pulling the sliver into an even thinner strand while giving it a small twist. Spinning is preparing the yarn for the weaving/knitting process by winding it onto bobbins.

PET Fibers in Recycled Cotton

PET, a plastic resin, is a component of soft drink bottles and similar products. It is also a recycled polymer fibre for products such as cushions, apparel, mattresses, wipes and scrub pads. By using recycled PET fibres, it reduces the amount of waste in landfills.

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About the Author

Jennifer Sobek has been a writer since 1993, working on collegiate and professional newspapers. Her writing has appeared in the "Copperas Cove Leader Press," "Fort Lewis Ranger," "Suburban Trends" and "The Shopper News," among others. Sobek has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Rowan University.