Renewcell is getting ready to ramp up production.
Last week, the Swedish recycling firm inked multi-year purchasing agreements with three European textile sorters, ensuring an abundant supply of clothing castoffs for its new, larger facility in Ortviken next year.
The deals with Soex in Germany, Texaid in Switzerland and Sweden’s Sysav will lock in thousands of tons of textile waste each year for conversion into Circulose, which it bills as the first 100 percent recycled fashion fiber to be produced from old jeans, ratty T-shirts and other discarded duds at an industrial scale. The new plant is expected to recycle an annual 60,000 tons of material beginning in July, a significant upgrade from the 7,000 tons that Renewcell’s existing setup in Kristinehamn can manage.
“We continue to build a strong regional supplier network for textile waste fractions that are suitable for recycling with us,” Martin Stenfors, chief operating officer at Renewcell, said in a statement. “We’re delighted to be able to offer our partners a profitable and circular alternative to downcycling, incineration or landfill of textile products that can not be sold secondhand.”
More than 5 million tons of textile waste is generated in Europe each year, according to the European Environmental Agency. Just one-fifth is reclaimed for export to other countries or recycling into insulation, rags or upholstery. The majority is either landfilled or incinerated.
The European Union has been working to nip this problem in the bud, however. From 2025, all member states will be beholden to new mandatory requirements under the European Clothing Action Plan, which includes the separate collection of textile waste for reuse and recycling.
Renewcell, Soex, Texaid and Sysav’s joint effort to scale up garment recycling is “crucial” to achieving the European Union’s goal of creating a circular economy for textiles, Stenfors said. “With our patented recycling process, we make it possible to create new high-quality textile raw material made entirely from recycled textile waste for the very first time,” he added.
To create its material, Renewecell first strips collected garments of any buttons, zippers, dyes and contaminants such as polyester. What remains is crushed into a pulp, then dried to create sheets of “pure Circulose” that are transformed into textiles. The process, the company says, is powered by renewable energy and entirely closed loop, meaning that the chemicals and water are recovered and reused rather than discharged as effluent.
Some of the world’s biggest apparel brands have embraced Circulose. They include H&M, which recently upped its investment into Renewcell, becoming its second-largest shareholder after Girindus Investments with an 11.51 percent slice.
“As a longstanding partner and investor in Renewcell, we’re happy to continue supporting this game-changing technology,” Erik Karlsson, acting head of H&M Co:Lab, the company’s investment arm, said at the time. “Renewcell has taken a leadership position in the circular textile industry and we look forward to creating new and sustainable collections together in the coming years.”
In December, Levi Strauss revealed that it has put an “innovative and sustainable spin” on its iconic 501 jeans by using a blend of Circulose and organic cotton. The new version, which will arrive in stores early next year, builds upon a previous partnership between Renewcell and the denim giant’s Wellthread line.
“We’re taking the innovation from last year’s Wellthread collaboration with Renewcell and applying it to what could rightly be called the most iconic garment in all of apparel, the 501,” Paul Dillinger, vice president of design innovation at Levi’s, said in a statement. “It shows how serious we are about moving in the direction of circularity. Not only will our circular 501 jeans be designed to stand the test of time, just as they always have been, but they’ll also be able to find a second, third or fourth life as new garments.”