Helsinki Metropolitan Area Reuse Centre has collected and pre-processed cotton textiles used for the project

Helsinki Metropolitan Area Reuse Centre has collected and pre-processed cotton textiles used for the project

A group of organisations in Finland is trialling a new closed loop production process to turn unused cotton clothing into new fibres for the fashion industry – which will be used by Finnish fashion retailer Seppälä in a new collection launching next year.

In what is described as a “unique production experiment,” a cellulose dissolution technique developed by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland will be tried out across all stages of the value chain during 2015 and 2016.

Cellulose wet-spinning is due to begin at VTT's pop-up plant in Finland in October, and the first clothing line made of the new recycled fibres will be available towards the end of 2016.

The Circular Economy of Textiles (TEKI) closed-loop project has been prompted by regulations coming into force in Finland on 1 January 2016, which mean organic waste in the form of clothing may no longer be disposed of by landfill. It is being coordinated by VTT and sustainability consultancy Ethica.

Cotton that cannot be reused is dissolved to make a cellulose solution, which can be turned into new fibre. The cellulose fibres are produced using the same technique and equipment used to make viscose fibre, but the new production technique is more environmentally friendly as no carbon disulphide is needed in the dissolution process.

Compared to virgin cotton, the new technique is also said to reduce the water footprint by more than 70% and the carbon footprint by 40–50%.

“The wet-spinning phase of the project is due to begin in a month's time in a factory in Valkeakoski that has not been in use for a couple of years,” explains VTT's senior scientist Pirjo Heikkilä, who is responsible for coordinating the TEKI project.

“Work done prior to this phase involves processing and dissolving pre-processed waste textiles. This is the first time that cellulose solution made from recycled materials is being wet-spun in an industrial scale. The fibre will be used to make new knitted fabrics.”

The pilot phase of the TEKI project kicked off in May 2015, when Helsinki Metropolitan Area Reuse Centre collected and pre-processed cotton textiles thrown away by consumers that could not be reused as clothing or used as material for recycled products. This material was then crushed and ground.

VTT is currently in the process of turning the material into a cellulose carbamate solution using a technique developed in-house, before moving on to the wet spinning stage next month.

Subsequent stages will see textile recycling and manufacturing company Pure Waste turn the fibres into yarn and then into knitted fabrics.

Finnish fashion retailer 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. Seppälä 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 recyclable RePack packaging – which customers can also use to return unwanted textiles to the Helsinki Metropolitan Area Reuse Centre for recycling.