Fighting clothing waste and fast fashion

Textiles recycling
iStock/Jorgeinthewater

In the UK, there is enough clothing waste each year to fill 459 Olympic sized swimming pools. Södra are aiming to change the way we discard textiles with their new recycling plans.

The toxic chemicals from the fashion industry poison not only the planet but the people living and working in the factories producing our clothes. The destruction from the fashion industry does not stop there, 350,000 tonnes of clothing enters landfill in the UK alone. This is why companies like Södra are looking to reform the textiles recycling industry for good.

“Only a negligible proportion of the global production of clothing and textiles is recycled today. Virtually everything is sent to landfill or incineration. But Swedish innovation and a willingness to help mitigate climate change can now influence the game at a global level,” said Lars Idermark, President and CEO of Södra.

One of the major obstacles to textile recycling is that the fabrics are often made from blended materials. Södra’s new technique can separate the cotton and polyester in polycotton blends, which are one of the most widely used textiles on the market. The pure cotton fibres are then added to our wood-derived textile pulp, which can then be used to make new textiles.

“We are now redrawing the map for the fashion and textile industry by offering circular flows of textile fibres. A sweater can now become a sweater again. This will create added value for our customers, and especially the fashion industry. It’s a big day for us and an equally big day for the emerging circular bioeconomy,” said Johannes Bogren, President of Södra Cell Bioproducts.

During the autumn, Södra’s pulp mill at Mörrum produced pulp by adding 20 tonnes of used textiles. At present, Södra can only accept white textiles, but the aim is to also find a decolouring solution. The goal is also to investigate the possibility of extracting a stream of residual products from the polyester. Swedish laundry and textile service provider Berendsen delivered the test material used in the pilot project comprising end-of-life sheets, towels, tablecloths and bathrobes from hospitals and hotels.

“We will be able to accept viscose and lyocell in addition to polycotton blends. Due to the technological change in our processes, we will be needing large volumes of textiles. We are now seeking companies with high sustainability ambitions that would like to partner with us in the delivery of textiles,” said Helena Claesson, Project Manager, Södra.

Production will commence at a low rate of 30 tonnes this year, but the long-term target is to add 25,000 tonnes of textiles to the company’s pulp production.

However, recycling waste clothes does not reduce the harm that clothes production causes. The toxic chemicals from dyes and the water waste from producing clothes cause an unmeasurable amount of harm to the environment, the only way you can fight this, as a consumer, is to buy less clothing and to repair the clothes that you already have.

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