Fibers made from used jeans.

The VTT Technical Research Center of Finland and the country’s Aalto University are participating in a European Union project called Trash-2-Cash that pools together designers, researchers, materials suppliers and textile producers from across Europe to turn textile waste into new, attractive consumer products.

More than 3 million tons of textiles are thrown away in the EU every year, a growing problem that Trash-2-Cash aims to solve by recycling and developing high-performance fibers. The Trash-2-Cash project team, which includes experts from all levels of the production chain, is looking for techniques that can be used to spin, knit, sew or design innovative high-quality products from used textile fibers.

“Turning unwanted textiles into raw materials for new textiles using ecological technologies provides an opportunity for revolutionizing European textile manufacturing and trade,” said Ali Harlin, a research professor at VTT.

The joint project aims at developing ecological and efficient techniques and involves developing techniques for pre-processing and washing waste textiles, separating fibers and fiberization.

The role of VTT is to focus on breaking down the fibers in waste textiles and making them suitable for the cellulose carbamate process. The Ioncell cellulose fiber manufacturing process will be carried out at Aalto. The Ioncell-F process has proved to be especially suitable for the recycling of cellulose waste. It’s a stable process that allows the manufacture of textile fibers of the highest quality even from low-quality wastes. Further, it allows also to separate the cellulose fraction from blends with polyester while preserving the macromolecular structure of polyester for further use.

Designers play an important role in the project to ensure the quality, performance and appearance of the new products appeal to consumers. The aim is to find new markets and uses for recycled textile fibers. Demo products will be manufactured together with commercial partners throughout the project.

The Trash-2-Cash project is part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 program and it will run through 2018. The total budget is 8.9 million euros, or $10.1 million at current exchange, of which EU funding accounts for 7.9 million euros, or $9 million. The project team includes 18 organizations from 10 EU countries. The project is coordinated by SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden.

In addition to VTT and Aalto University, Finnish participants include the children’s clothing manufacturer Reima. The project won the H&M Foundation Global Change Award in February.