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We’ve had to learn to deal with this in an environmentally friendly way

Newsflash: We keep buying new clothes. And a majority of them go straight to the bin when we’re tired of them. At the same time, cotton production is one of the fashion industry’s biggest concerns. Swedish Re:newcell might be the ones to change that – through their unique recycling method.

We all know that abandoned clothes should be handed in to thrift shops, or somewhere better than the depths of our wardrobes – but do we all know that ragged, worn-out clothes should be recycled? And that these textiles’ destiny could be to become new textiles – in a process that is one hundred percent environment friendly?

– What we’ve done is to develop a technique of recycling cellulosic textiles into new strong textile fibres. It might sound easy, but the tricky thing with textile is that it’s been colored in different ways, treated with chemicals such as flame retardants or anti-wrinkle treatments, and on top of all this has been used in various ways by the consumer. We’ve had to learn to deal with this in an environmentally friendly way, says Henrik Norlin at Re:newcell, a Swedish company that now, after years of research, are in a state where they will bring production from a small- to a significantly bigger scale.

What is it that you do, step by step?

– We take the textiles – cotton or viscose – and rip them into pieces and dissolve them to liquid form. In this step fibres other than cotton and viscose are extracted – it can be buttons, zippers or threads. Then we dry the liquid, and what we get is a the same product that is today used to produce textiles – only our product is recycled, and it’s been estimated that it can be recycled again five to seven times.

Where do you source the textiles that you recycle?

– At the start, we’ll mainly be using cast off clothing from Holland and Germany, from companies that help us to separate the recyclable textiles. We’ll also use production spill and old sheets and cloth. Further down the line, the idea is to use more textile sourced from customers – but before that happens people have to start bringing their old textiles to recycling stations. In Sweden, every person consumes 15 kilograms of clothes – of which 8 kilograms go straight to the bin. That’s an enormous amount, and when you talk to people about it they say that ”well, I’m a little embarassed, but I don’t know what to do with them?”. People understand that it’s not a good idea to throw clothes away, but recycling them has to be made much more accessible.

Why is it important to find a way to recycle cotton, of all materials?

– There are many reasons – one of them is the water use required to produce cotton. As an example, 2700 litres of water is needed to produce one single t-shirt. Also, cotton production acquires a lot of land, which need a lot of chemicals. There’s definitely different kinds of cotton, some of them better than others, but regardless, it’s hard to produce enough, in relation to the demand. If there’s a way to get back the cellulosic fiber into the cycle, you cover a huge need.

Words by Maija Mårtensgård


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