With more than 3m tons of textiles being thrown away each year in the EU alone, a new project aims to provide a second life for unwanted textiles by turning them into new consumer products.

Valued at more than US$1 trillion and ranking as the second largest industry in the world in terms of intensity of trade, the global textile industry is also claimed to be the fastest growing sector in terms of household waste. Discounting and low retail prices over the last two decades have led to a dramatic increase in the consumption of clothing and, in turn, a rise in textile waste from the consumer.

But an initiative by VTT Technical Research Center of Finland and Aalto University – called Trash-2-Cash – is bringing together designers, researchers, materials suppliers and textile manufacturers from across the EU to help solve the problem by recycling and developing high-performance fibres.

The Trash-2-Cash project team, which includes experts from all levels of the production chain, hopes to develop techniques that can be used to spin, knit, sew or design high quality products from used textile fibres. The techniques for pre-processing and washing waste textiles, separating fibres, and fiberisation are designed to be eco-friendly and efficient.

Project leaders hope to find new markets and uses for recycled textile fibres through the initiative, which is part of the EU's Horizon 2020 programme, and will run from 2015 until 2018 with EU funding accounting to EUR7.9m.

They also note that designers will play an important role in the project to ensure the quality, performance and appearance of the new products appeal to consumers. Demo products will be manufactured with commercial partners throughout the project.