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New perspective for protective clothing and PPE recycling
Protective textile

New perspective for protective clothing and PPE recycling

Written by: Kermel

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) plays a major role in enabling professionals to work safely in adverse environments. Kermel looks at developments in the PPE industry.


There has been a growth in the number of industries where it is impractical or illegal to work without protective gear. Fire Resistant (FR) PPE is worn by personnel working in environments where they are likely to be exposed to extreme heat or flames. Most PPE clothing in the market is made of aramid fibres, which are inherently and permanently non-flammable. The latest perspective on aramid-based garments is their ability to be recycled.


Company background

Kermel is a European solution provider of technical textiles used to manufacture heat resistant and flame protective clothing. It deals with every stage from fibre to end garment. Headquartered in France, Kermel has continuously maintained a lead in the market for permanently non-flammable clothing used by fire fighters, special military crews, riot police gear and many other industrial personnel. Kermel fibres are intrinsically non-flammable, thermostable and permanently fire-resistant.


A commitment to sustainable development

In 2009, Kermel undertook an eco-design approach and decided to take into account the end of life of the fire fighters' suits which, until then, were either buried or incinerated. This approach was assessed in 2012 by the French standards organisation AFNOR and classified at "Progress" level, reflecting the company's commitment to a clear product strategy.


Recycling scraps from protective clothing production

With the help of the regional Fibre Competitiveness Center, Kermel launched a technical analysis on the scraps from protective garments. This analysis demonstrated the feasibility of processing and recycling the products at the end of their useful life.


Kermel's objective was to offer extra service, setting up a branch to collect and recycle end-of-life fire protective clothing. For their sustainable development work, Kermel was awarded the first prize in the Alsace Innovation Sustainable Development competition for the Greater Colmar region in 2012.


An innovative recycling service

Initially, Kermel created and structured a new network for the collection and use of fire fighters' clothing at the end of their working lives. About a hundred metallic containers were installed all over France in the Fire and Rescue Services where used garments are sorted. As of today, about 80 per cent of the French Fire and Rescue Services are equipped with containers made available by Kermel.


For the collection of fire suits, Kermel signed an agreement with Le Relais, a company with a social-economic purpose, which is the leader in textile recovery in France.


After collection, it is necessary to take the used garments apart to eliminate everything that is not fabric, particularly buttons, zippers or reflecting strips. After dismantling, the fabric is sent to an industrial partner who carries out the step of shredding, to obtain the recycled fibre. This approach led to the registration of a new trademark, Nova Vita, specifically used for Kermel's recycled products.


Development of recycled aramid solutions

New products using recycled Kermel fibres are under development for a range of applications in fields as diverse as textiles, transport or construction, nonwovens for electric arc protection and fire-fighters.


As an example, Kermel helped the Chilean Penitentiary Administration find a technical solution to the problem of fires in cells in detention centres for young people, several of whom die every year from burns or intoxication during mutinies. The same issue is relevant in France where several cases of fires in cells were reported last year with one of them leading to the death of a prisoner. For this reason, Kermel developed a new futon-type fire-resistant mattress with a fabric cover made out of Kermel fabric and a filling of recycled fibres from used fire fighters' clothes.


The new mattresses have excellent resistance to flammability and they released very little smoke during ignition trials. At the same time, Kermel recently developed fire jackets which include an internal thermal barrier from recycled fibres. We should be able to put up to 35 to 40 per cent recycled fibres into these new fire suits.


We have developed a bi-layer coverall made from recycled fibre which is one of the lightest in the market for protection against the electric arc. The future of PPEs is definitively linked to recycling services, and recycling services of Kermel fibre is a sterling example to illustrate the high level of performance of Kermel garments, even those have been used for a long time.


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