Cotton fabric alone accounts for about half of the fibre worn in the world and by now it will come at no surprise that cotton production poses a big problem. It requires irrigation; a lot of land, a lot of chemicals and a lot of water – it takes about 8,000 liters to produce a pair of jeans. Additionally, cotton is often grown in countries where the production has a large impact on the local water supply.
Given the growing world population, the annual consumption of textiles is on the rise. Globally we consume about 73 million tons of clothes (2014), and the growth rate is almost 4 percent a year.
And alarmingly, only a small percentage of these textiles are reused or recycled, a common estimate is that about 20 percent is recycled. Although volumes of natural fibre production and use have remained approximately constant for several years (the growth in volumes is almost entirely associated with polyester), we keep using virgin sources like cotton and fumble for ways to motivate it.
Given this background, it is safe to say that if there are ways to get cotton’s cellulosic fibre into the cycle again, extending the life of already available resources, we would want to know about it.
Enter Re:newcell, a small Swedish company founded in January 2012 by researchers from KTH Royal Institute of Technology and a small investment company. Re:newcell has developed a way of recycling cellulosic textiles into new strong textile pulp – in an environmentally friendly way and with the high quality that the fashion industry demands. This is no mean feat, as textiles are often colored in different ways and treated with chemicals such as flame retardants or anti-wrinkle treatments. And of course, they are used in different ways by the consumer.
« Re:newcell has managed to find a way to close the loop on a commodity which today is one of the largest threats to our planet »
“We take the textiles – cotton or viscose – rip them into pieces and dissolve them to liquid form. In this step fibres other than cotton and viscose are extracted which can be buttons, zippers or threads. Then we dry the liquid, and what we get is 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”, says Henrik Norlin of Girindus Investments AB.
After having used cast-off clothing provided from industries in Germany and Holland, production spill and old sheets and cloth, Re:newcell announced in April 2016 that it had started the construction of a demonstration plant in Kristinehamn in Sweden, expected to be completed in early 2017. The new step is backed by a 8 million euro investment to build the initial production line. This suggests that Re:newcell’s process has matured enough to move from a small scale to a bigger one.
And Re:newcell thinks big, aiming to become a world leader in providing environmentally friendly processes within the field of textile recycling. “Re:newcell has managed to find a way to close the loop on a commodity which today is one of the largest threats to our planet. The impact of a large-scale application of this process is enormous”, says Henrik Norlin.
Further down the line, Re:newcell hopes to use more textile sourced from customers. For that, they needs our help. Line up to recycle your cotton.
Visit Re:newcell here.