Swedish wood pulp manufacturer Södra has created a solution where large volumes of used cotton and blended fabrics can be recycled into new clothing and textiles.
The company said one of the major obstacles to textile recycling is that the fabrics are often made from blended materials. Södra has developed a new technique that can separate the cotton and polyester, with the pure cotton fibers then added to the company’s wood-derived textile pulp that can then be used to make new textiles.
“Only a negligible proportion of the global production of clothing and textiles is recycled today,” Lars Idermark, president and CEO of Södra, said. “Virtually everything is sent to landfill or incineration. But…innovation and a willingness to help mitigate climate change can now influence the game at a global level.”
This fall, Södra’s pulp mill at Mörrum produced pulp by adding 20 tons of used textiles. Right now, Södra can only accept white textiles, but the aim is to also find a decoloring 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 are now redrawing the map for the fashion and textile industry by offering circular flows of textile fibers,” Johannes Bogren, president of Södra Cell Bioproducts, said. “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.”
Helena Claesson, project manager at, Södra, said the process will also accommodate viscose and lyocell fibers.
“We are now seeking companies with high sustainability ambitions that would like to partner with us in the delivery of textiles,” she said.
Production will commence at just 30 tons this year, but the long-term target is to add 25,000 tons of textiles to the company’s pulp production.
Lenzing Group’s Tencel fibers with Refibra Technology also come from responsibly harvested wood combined with reclaimed cotton scraps. The resulting pulp is then manufactured in Lenzing’s closed-loop production facility. The fibers are also compostable and biodegradable in soil and water, key attributes that make possible its contributions to circular economy.