Some of Denmark’s largest fashion and textile players have joined forces in a new recycling technology and circular design project whose ultimate aim is to recycle all textile waste in the country.
The ReSuit (Recycling Technologies and Sustainable Textile Product Design) initiative is led by research and technology company Danish Technological Institute, and is supported by DKK13m (US$2.11m) from Innovation Fund Denmark.
The consortium includes fashion and textile firms Bestseller, Elis, Design School Kolding, raw material producer A/S Dansk Shell, consumer behaviour specialist Naboskab, and recycling technology experts Aarhus University and Fraunhofer.
“Yearly, 100 billion textile units are produced worldwide, and they are to a great extent treated as disposable cutlery,” says Anders Lindhardt (PhD) from Danish Technological Institute.
“Materials worth EUR400 billion are lost as we lack infrastructure and solid recycling technologies on a very large scale. In this project, we are looking to get all textile waste in Denmark into a loop where it can become new textiles or raw materials for other products.
“If it succeeds, it can become a game changer.”
The consortium will tackle the textile problem from two angles: How can the textile industry get better at designing sustainably? And which technologies can ensure circularity for consumer textile waste?
Regarding design, the focus is on sustainable design of textile products – that is textiles that are designed with recycling in mind – and phase out substances that are not suitable for future recycling technologies and in design guides for sustainable textile products.
“Circularity is not a stock commodity. We need disruptive innovation to create the circular solutions we strive for at Bestseller,” says Camilla Skjønning Jørgensen, Sustainable Materials & Innovation Manager.
“It is an enormously complex field, which is why we are working on multiple elements simultaneously to be able to secure the sustainable fashion production of the future.
“With ReSuit, we are part of an ambitious and multifaceted collaboration. Here, Bestseller’s circular design principles come into a meaningful context, and if the project manages to develop proper technologies from various knowledge areas, we will see a unified solution with far-reaching potential.”
Motivate consumers to act sustainably
As part of the project, Naboskab, which specialises in understanding and changing consumer behaviour, must map out how consumers can be motivated to act sustainably.
When it comes to textile waste, the project focuses on the enormous quantities of clothes and textiles that end up as garbage every year – in Denmark alone it is 85,000 tonnes.
From 2022, Denmark will start sorting clothes separately – and from 2025 the rest of the European Union will follow.
“Polyester accounts for half of all clothes fibres in the world. Therefore, we will further develop technology based on chemical recycling to recycle the polyester materials so that they can return to the textile industry,” Lindhardt adds.
The remaining textile products must be degraded using so-called HTL technology (hydrothermal liquefaction). The process makes it possible – under the influence of water, heat and pressure – to convert the complex textile stream into oil products that can be used for the production of plastic, fuel or synthetic textile fibres. HTL is a well-known and robust technology, but it is ground-breaking to apply it to textiles.
In the project, the HTL technology will be further developed and scaled up in collaboration with A/S Dansk Shell, which has successfully tested the possibility of refining bio-oil products and sees opportunities for recycling of other oil products.