Textile recycling plays a significant role in the mitigation of climate change

News 2019-07-12 at 12:19
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A textile-themed webinar organised by the Circwaste project discussed the current state and future views of textile recycling in Finland. The theme is quite topical, because the change in the EU’s Waste Framework Directive requires the member countries to organise a separate collection of textile waste by 2025. Textiles have received a significant role in various inspections even from the perspective of the mitigation of climate change. The carbon dioxide emissions from the textile industry are estimated to exceed those from marine or flight traffic.

Change is needed for the culture of disposability 

Senior Specialist Sarianne Tikkanen from the Ministry of the Environment sheds light on the current state of textile recycling. She feels that one of the major problems in the clothing industry is the single-use boom of clothes. ‘According to estimates, people throw away approximately 13 kilos of textiles every year, and approximately 80% of this amount ends up in energy utilisation.’ 

It is also estimated that people are buying more textiles than previously, approximately 250 pieces per person. ‘At the moment, only about 13% of all textiles are recycled, and only 1% is closed cycle recycling where clothes become new clothes’, Tikkanen says. The manufacturing of textiles also loads the environment in other ways than just through the production of the textile material. ‘It takes approximately three kilos of various chemicals to produce one kilo of cotton-based textile’, Tikkanen estimates. 

During the examined 15 years, the sales of clothes  have increased while the usage rates of clothes have decreased. There are many reasons for the increase in the amount of textile waste: textile production has increased significantly, the quality of the produced textiles has decreased, the textiles manufactured are used less, new products are often cheaper than repairing existing ones, and trends change quickly. Changes are necessary for the entire product and value chain.

Research work helps examine the ecosystem of textiles 

Telaketju is the largest network promoting the recycling of end-of-life textiles in Finland. Expert in end-of-life textiles Inka Mäkiö from Turku University of Applied Sciences presented the Telaketju network and the results of its first phase. Telaketju develops the collection, sorting, and refining of end-of-life textiles to meet the needs of their utilisers. The Telaketju network has carried out processing, material, and product demonstrations, developed textile recognition technologies, and produced information on the quality requirements and applicability for various uses of pre-processed recycled materials. 

‘At the moment, we have an overall view of what is happening in Finland in relation to textiles, and what should be done to ensure that textiles are recycled as well as possible. In other words, we have at this point outlined a future ecosystem for end-of-life textiles’, Mäkiö counts the results of the first phase of the Telaketju project. 

The funding application for the second phase, which aims to produce business operations through textile recycling, is currently being processed by Business Finland. The application for funding is open for another six months, which means that funders can join the project even after it is launched. 

Developing refining in cooperation 

The refining of end-of-life textiles will be tested in practice in a refinery pilot in Turku. ‘At the moment, we have an idea about how municipal waste management companies can collect the textiles from consumers in the pilot phase, what kind of pre-processing the textiles require, and how they will be transported to the refinery in Turku’, says expert Hanna Komu from the Lounais-Suomen Jätehuolto waste management company about the refinery pilot for end-of-life textiles, created through the Telaketju network. 

29 municipal waste management companies, which  are almost all the waste management companies in Finland, participate in the development of the refinery. During the first phase (2020), the operation of the refinery is tested on a pilot scale, and the capacity will be increased to 5,000–20,000 tonnes per year in the second phase. The aim is that during the second phase (2021–2023), all waste management plants would collect end-of-life textiles for the refinery. On this scale, the service could also be provided to Sweden and the countries in the Baltic Sea region. Cooperation with the other Nordic countries has already been started. Product development partners are currently being acquired, and companies interested in the utilisation of recycled fibres are hoped to contact the project to allow us to carry out pilots and create value chains accordant with circular economy.

Clippings continue as clothes through Pure Waste Textiles Oy 

Pure Waste Textiles Oy is an existing company which utilises the waste from the clothing industry through mechanical recycling. The operations of the company are focused on recycling cotton. ‘We decided to focus on recycling cotton, because it is the most used, yet least recycled organic fibre’, says Hannes Bengs from Pure Waste Textiles. The company utilises cuttings from the textile industry. PET bottles (15–40%) are used as a binder to strengthen the fibres. In the future, the company strives to replace the material from the recycled bottles with recycled textile. 

The textiles are sorted by colour and quality. In good quality textile, the fibres are as long as possible. ‘The colour sorting allows us to avoid dyeing the textile, saving water in the production process’, Bengs says. Bengs points out that the variation in the quality of the textile raw material received is a challenge. ‘We now have to be increasingly careful when selecting materials for our production, because the quality of the raw materials we receive varies’, he says. 

Cotton used to be grown more sustainably than it is today. The type of cotton grown, as well as the manner of making and processing the thread, have a significant impact on what can be made out of the cuttings. At the moment, the company produces 20,000 kilos of fabric per month, and it aims to double the amount by 2020.

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