Old and worn-out cotton textiles are given a new life in a globally unique project that extracts cellulose fibre from textile waste for reuse as new knitted fabric.
Developed by VTT, the new technology enables the production of cellulose fibre without carbon disulphide, which is toxic. The method is more environmentally friendly than that used for viscose or virgin cotton. A group of Finnish organisations is involved in the project, with the aim of trying out the new production technique in practice at all stages of the value chain.
Aiming at closed-loop recycling
VTT will de-colour the material, turn it into a cellulose carbamate solution and fiberise it in the former Avilon viscose plant in Valkeakoski that went bankrupt. The fibre is expected to have similar qualities to commercial viscose fibres.
Pure Waste will turn the fibres into thread and the thread into knitted fabrics. During spinning, mechanically recycled textile fibre is mixed into the fibre to produce enough knitted fabric for a commercial product line.
Seppälä will design and produce a line of prototypes and, once the pilot phase of the project has been completed, manufacture a commercial clothing line for its customers towards the end of 2016.
The aim is to sell the garments in RePack packaging. Using recyclable RePack packaging means that customers receive products without the usual packaging waste. In addition, customers can use the packaging to return any old textiles they may have to the Helsinki Metropolitan Area Reuse Centre for recycling.
Ethica, a specialist in circular economy, will study and model the potential of a closed-loop textile ecosystem more comprehensively, and gauge consumers’ interest in operating models that are based on the principles of circular economy and recycled materials.
Seppälä interested in an ecological option
The project was launched last spring, at the same time as retail-clothing company Seppälä became a family owned company again.
“The timing of the project was perfect for us, because the new owners wanted to strengthen sustainable business in Seppälä. Responsibility is one of Seppälä’s values, and our objective is that responsibility permeates our day-to-day operations throughout the value chain,” says Erica Adlercreutz, Purchasing Development Manager, Seppälä.
Seppälä will organise a campaign at its stores during the project to close the loop by collecting used material and bringing it back to production. Customers can return their old clothes to Seppälä stores to be used as raw material for new products.
“In purchasing, responsibility means increasing the share of ecological products in the Seppälä product line.”
“We believe that if the customer is pleased with the look and fit of a product, when given a choice, will choose a more ecological option. If the project succeeds, it can provide more options for those looking for ecological materials. For us the option of acquiring fibres, yarn or material developed – and perhaps also produced – in Finland, is an ideal solution,” Adlercreutz says.
Carbon footprint reduced by 40 to 50%
In the circular economy pilot, old worn-out cotton is dissolved and reused as a raw material for new fibre. Cellulose fibre is produced using the same technique and equipment as has been used to make viscose fibre for decades.
The new production technique is considerably more environmentally friendly than the technique used for viscose, as no carbon disulphide is needed in the dissolution process. Compared to virgin cotton, the new technique also reduces the water footprint by more than 70% and the carbon footprint by 40 to 50%.
The project is funded by Tekes and the participating businesses.
Erica Adlercreutz from Seppälä believes that if the customer is pleased with the look and fit of a product, when given a choice, will choose a more ecological option.
Follow the project’s progress online: www.reloopingfashion.org