Until now, textile recycling processes have limited the ability to separate blended fabrics, like polycotton, at scale. Södra, Sweden’s largest forest-owner association, has figured it out.
Since 2012, the company has been a supplier of dissolving wood pulp to the textile value chain, corresponding to 1 million tons of textile fibers. This enables the production of viscose staple fibers, viscose filament yarn and lyocell staple fibers.
In its campaign “Once More,” Södra aims to invite raw material suppliers and apparel brands with “high sustainability ambitions” to join its mission by partnering, thereby unlocking further production capacity.
In the former, Södra seeks large quantities of raw materials; in the latter, the company seeks apparel brand partners looking to put garments to market using the Once More process. This new method for dissolving pulp is able to handle polycotton blends in a large scale, which has not existed before.
“The meaning of Once More is that every time a textile fiber has done its duty, it can once more start life as a textile or a garment again. And when finished it can be recycled once more…etc.,” said Johannes Bogren, president of cell bioproducts at Södra.
The traditional process of dissolving pulp involves the treatment of wood to get as pure of a cellulose product as possible. But in this new process, Södra adds another source of cellulose (e.g., cotton from discarded textiles). The water usage for processing and cooling during production is anticipated to be the same.
“Polycotton is one of the most common combinations of blend,” said Bogren, citing the ubiquity of the blended fabric in the hospitality and medical industries for improved strength. Swedish laundry and textile service provider Berendsen delivered the test material (e.g. end-of-life sheets, towels, tablecloths and bath robes) used in the pilot project.
Aside from polycotton, the process works with viscose and lyocell. As for the limitations, pre-sorting is necessary to determine what zippers and buttons are acceptable. And at present, the company can only accept white textiles.
“Once we know the volumes available we will take the next step and prepare for continuous production,” Bogren said.
“It is incredible to see how Södra uses its resources and expertise for an innovative textile recycling solution,” Jennie Rosén, chief executive officer of the Swedish Fashion Council said in a statement. Rosén described the initiative as representative of what the organization itself stands for as well as new possibilities in the future.
Innovation is the way forward to closing the loop. Engineered fiber innovations like those from textile innovation firm Evrnu are vying for extraordinary performance and distinct environmental advantages from clothing discards, while clothing discards are the boon of clothing textile recyclers. Other textile recycling systems in the space include Hong Kong-based textile manufacturer Novetex Textiles Ltd., which spun out its waterless The Billie upcycling factory in July.
As the innovations of bioeconomy and circular economy become increasingly intertwined, there is greater potential to curtail clothing and textile waste at scale with a meaningful impact to mitigate climate change.
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