New study points to favourable conditions for mechanical textile recycling in Sweden

Reducing the climate footprint of textiles requires a value chain that enables reuse and recycling. One link in that chain is facilities for mechanical textile recycling – something that Sweden currently lacks. Now IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, as part of BioInnovation’s textile initiative, has investigated the potential of this kind of installation, and the calculations point to a favourable deal.

“We are in dialogue with several stakeholders. I would be surprised if we didn’t have a mechanical recycling plant in Sweden within the next few years,” says Johan Strandberg, the project manager of the study at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute.

Johan Strandberg, project manager, IVL. Photo: Johan Olsson.

Mechanical textile recycling is a tried and tested technique. It involves shredding textiles into fibres, which are then sold on for use in new products. Facilities exist all over Europe – but not in Sweden. Now a study by IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute (IVL) shows that a plant for mechanical textile recycling in Sweden would be economically and environmentally beneficial. The study is a result of the subproject Mechanical textile recycling – Roadmap for Swedish process capacity, within the strategic innovation programme BioInnovation’s textile initiative, Circular Textile Innovations.

– Reuse of textiles is always preferable, but when it is not an option, mechanical recycling is a climate-efficient technology. A facility like this is important for a smooth-running circular ecosystem for textile waste and can reduce the climate impact of textiles in the long term, says Johan Strandberg, the study’s project manager at IVL.

Swedish establishment is good for finances and for the environment

IVL’s calculations show that the climate impact of mechanically recycled cotton fibre in Sweden is 70–300 kg of carbon dioxide equivalents, per tonne of fibre. This can be compared with the 500–4,000 carbon dioxide equivalents per tonne of fibre in the production of virgin cotton fibre.

According to the study, factors such as transport, energy prices and the cost of labour or premises do not constitute any obstacles to the financial and environmental justification for establishing a plant in Sweden. IVL has based its calculations on current conditions, including a low proportion of non-fossil fuel in transport, and the fact that textiles currently have to be sent abroad for sorting. The study also evaluates how the geographical location of the plant affects the results.

– It makes no difference where the plant is located in Sweden, mechanically recovered fibre is always better than virgin fibre. However, there are also challenges associated with setting up a facility, the biggest of them being access to a homogeneous and predictable material stream. Hospital clothing and workwear from industry are extremely interesting in this context and would be a good start, while at the same time we need to build up an infrastructure for the collection and sorting of textile waste, says Johan Strandberg.

In dialogue with several stakeholders

Jonas Rylander

Jonas Rylander, Sporda Nonwoven. Foto: Sporda Nonwowen.

Mechanical textile recycling is a complement to chemical textile recycling, which is also being explored within the framework of BioInnovation’s textile initiative, and is being further developed by Södra, for example. Currently, Swedish companies are buying recycled textile fibres from abroad. One of them is Sporda Nonwoven, which recently inaugurated its major investment: a production line using so-called airlay technology to produce nonwoven from 100% recycled raw material. This can be compared to the capacity of the previous technology at a maximum of 30% recycled. End uses include sound absorbers and needle felt for car interiors.

– Textiles are an incredible resource and the demand for materials made from recycled textiles is going to increase; there is already significant interest among our existing and potential customers. The obvious next step is to utilise the textiles discarded in Sweden, recycle them in our own immediate area and establish a local circular value chain, says Jonas Rylander, CEO of Sporda Nonwoven.

With new regulations concerning producer responsibility and the requirement for textile recycling, Johan Strandberg believes that there will soon be mechanical recycling facilities in Sweden:

– We are in dialogue with several stakeholders. I would be surprised if we didn’t have a mechanical recycling plant in Sweden within the next few years.

Read more about the project Mechanical textile recycling – Roadmap for Swedish processing capacity (a part of CITEX).