Pena: Recycling of textile waste – SUNSTAR
I am no longer involved in the papermaking process. However, I still receive my regular magazine from Valmet, a leading supplier of papermaking machinery and equipment, by post. An article in the magazine caught my attention. This is Valmet, which supplies equipment to a company called Renewcell for its textile recycling plant in Sweden. It is the world’s first commercial-scale textile recycling plant.
The article states that Renewcell’s patented process can “recycle” cellulosic textile waste such as cotton and viscose clothing (a semi-synthetic type of rayon fabric made from wood pulp used as a silk substitute. ) turning them into a dissolving paste product called ‘Circulose.’ Upcycling means reusing discarded materials to create a product of higher quality or value than the original.
Renewcell boasts that by using its revolutionary process powered by 100 percent renewable energy, they turn old clothes into pristine natural material that doesn’t need cotton fields, oil or trees.
So how do they do it? They accept clothes that cannot be resold to people because they are either way too worn out or hopelessly out of fashion. They prefer cotton clothes because they contain a lot of cellulose. The clothes are shredded, unbuttoned, unzipped, discolored and turned into mush.
Contaminants like polyester plastic are removed. What remains is cellulose – the biodegradable organic polymer from which cotton, trees and all the green plants on the planet are made. The suspension is dried to produce sheets of pure Circulose®. They wrap the leaves in bales and ship them for processing into natural textile fibers.
This textile upcycling activity will reduce the enormous impact of the fashion industry on the environment. According to the Geneva Environment Network (GEN), fashion production accounts for 10 percent of humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources and pollutes rivers and streams. Additionally, 85% of all textiles go to landfill each year (UNECE, 2018), and washing certain types of clothing sends a significant amount of microplastics into the ocean.
Consider these figures compiled by GEN: the equivalent of a garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second (UNEP, 2018); About 60% of all materials used by the fashion industry are plastic (UNEP, 2019); Some 93 billion cubic meters of water – enough to meet the needs of five million people – are used each year by the fashion industry, contributing significantly to water scarcity in some regions (UNCTAD, 2020 ); About 20% of industrial wastewater pollution worldwide comes from the fashion industry (WRI, 2017).
Some clothing companies are joining initiatives to reduce textile pollution and grow cotton in a more sustainable way. The United Nations has launched an Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, which will coordinate efforts between agencies to make the fashion industry less harmful.