A 2017 Nordic Council of Ministers report discusses some of the technical and business challenges in reusing the fibers of used textiles to make new textiles. These challenges include: the shortening of fiber lengths during the processing of the used textiles; separating fibers types (e.g., natural and synthetic fibers) in products with fiber-type mixes; and the presence of persistent chemicals in some textile products. How the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) and other countries, companies, and research establishments have been addressing these challenges is presented in the report. Click here to read the report (pdf file).
This Nordic Council report reflects a growing interest in addressing sustainability needs and environmental problems associated with increasing global textile use. A recent 2017 review article by Gustav Sandin and Greg M. Peters at Sweden’s RISE Research Institute and the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg addresses the scope of these needs and problems. Click here to read the article. A major finding of the review is that much more textile reuse and/or recycling, compared to textile incineration and landfilling, is needed to avoid the current serious environmental impacts of used textiles.
Unfortunately, major technical challenges exist in recycling textile fibers for use in new textiles, e.g., those challenges identified in the first paragraph above. More details on these challenges and the status of textile recycling developments are presented by Anna Palme, of Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology, in her 2017 PhD thesis. Click here to read her thesis (pdf file).
The Nordic Council Report and the Palme/Chalmers University of Technology PhD thesis referenced above are indications of the work within the Nordic countries on addressing the problems of textile recycling. Another indication is the efforts made by Nordic textile-related companies such as a technical breakthrough by the H&M Group in finding a successful method for recycling used, blended textiles into new fibers. Click here to read more details on this breakthrough.
Statistics given in the documents referenced above show the enormous growth of textile production and use and the environmental impact of this production and use. The production and use will greatly increase as global population and per capital incomes continue to grow. The work being done within the Nordic countries, and elsewhere, on improving sustainability of textiles use and decreasing its environmental impact is very important.