Turning Waste Cotton into New Fiber for the Fashion Industry

According to VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, old worn-out cotton clothing that is not suitable for reuse can be turned into new fibers for the textile industry using a new cellulose dissolution technique.

A group of Finnish organizations have launched a project in the course of which the new production technique will be tried out in practice at all stages of the value chain. Last year, cellulose wet-spinning has begun at VTT‘s pop-up plant in Finland. It is planned that the first clothing line made of the new recycled fibers will be out towards the end of 2016.

For the purpose of the Circular Economy of Textiles (TEKI) project, VTT and Ethica have brought together a group of Finnish organizations representing different activities in the value chain. Their common goal is to promote the recycling of textiles while adding value to their business activities or creating new business. Ethica‘s role in the project is to research and model the potential of a closed-loop textile ecosystem more comprehensively and to gauge consumers‘ interest in operating models that are based on the principles of circular economy and recycled materials. The project also aims to study the technological requirements of dissolution-based recycling.

As reported, old worn-out cotton can be dissolved to make cellulose solution. Cellulose fiber can be produced using the same technique and equipment as has been used to make viscose fiber. VTT assures that 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 percent and the carbon footprint by 40 to 50 percent.

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Phases of the circular economy pilot project

The pilot phase of the TEKI project, funded by Tekes (Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation) and the participating businesses, began in May 2015. Helsinki Metropolitan Area Reuse Centre Ltd collected and pre-processed cotton textiles thrown away by consumers that could not be reused as clothing or used as material for recycled products. Suez Environnement, an international industrial and services group, crushed and grounded the material.

Photo: Joonas Lumpeinen/AlphaGalileo

Photo: Joonas Lumpeinen/AlphaGalileo

The task of VTT is to turn the material into a cellulose carbamate solution using a technique developed in-house and to fiberize the solution in the organization’s plant in Valkeakoski. Pure Waste will turn the fibers into thread and the thread into knitted fabrics. 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 company will also involve its customers in the project by running a used clothes collection campaign in its stores in the spring 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.

Photo: Joonas Lumpeinen/AlphaGalileo