Significant project underway to utilise Finnish discarded textiles


The industrial utilisation of discarded textiles requires that an extensive sorting and collection network is established for the different fibres – from cotton to polyester and viscose. Companies that wish to become involved in developing a business from circular economy must also be found. In the Telaketju project developing circular economy for textiles, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland coordinates a project component that received EUR 2.3 million of funding from Tekes.

The purpose of the Telaketju project is to establish an ecosystem formed by companies and other actors that would raise the circular economy for textiles to a whole different level in Finland and develop it into a profitable business.

”If we wish to get discarded textiles to industrial reuse, we must arrange separate collection, but this will not happen if there are no users for the material. In order to resolve this chicken-and-egg problem, we are simultaneously developing textile collection and sorting, and the utilisation of sorted fibre materials,” describes Senior Scientist Pirjo Heikkilä from VTT who leads the Tekes-funded project component.

”The solutions related to the recycling of textiles and, for example, the related automation, offer diverse opportunities for new international business for SMEs. The ecosystem established through this overall project will create networks and opportunities to try out these solutions,” describes Programme Manager Tuula Savola from Tekes.

Product demonstrators will be created during the project, with fibres utilised diversely through various technologies in plastic composites or nonwoven fabric products. The suitability of recycled fibre for different applications is also studied.

The quality criteria and product safety of fibres

The industrial utilisation of the material requires that the fibre materials generated during sorting for industrial use is of a uniform quality and fulfils the requirements of the intended application. For this purpose, quality criteria is developed in the project for manual and mechanical sorting as well as product requirements for materials sorted and pre-processed for different applications.

The product safety of recycled textiles is also assessed during the project. During manufacturing and use, textiles may accumulate dirt that affects their reusability. Special fabrics, such as materials containing fire-proofing agents, must be identified before further use, and channelled to products where fire protection is useful. IR spectrometry allows the identification of fibres, at least, and the objective is to also be able to identify fire-proofing agents and other such substances affecting the reusability of the textiles.

Modelling of the processing points and transport

Discarded textiles are generated in households around the country, particularly in population centres. During the project, VTT will model the financially most feasible solutions for the locations of the processing points and the planning of transport routes.

Telaketju connects the actors

Telaketju is a set of projects combining various actors and funding providers. In addition to Tekes, the funding providers include the Ministry of the Environment and the companies and research organisations participating in the project. During the project, the companies develop their own businesses through the development of the recycling of materials, materials technology or service business.
”Growing the cooperation network and finding companies interested in the materials is among our first priorities. We wish to create the means to obtain materials as varied as possible for the use of the industry,” says Heikkilä.

Tekes project

The Tekes project coordinated by VTT comprises research and development projects of the companies and public research projects supporting them. The overall budget of the Tekes project for the years 2017–2018 is around EUR 2.32 million, of which the share of the research parties is around half.

The research partners of the Tekes-funded project are VTT, the Turku University of Applied Sciences and the Lahti University of Applied Sciences. Companies are participating in the project both with their own projects and their own work input. The participating companies are Pure Waste Textiles, Touchpoint, Soften, Recci, Tramel, Remeo, Finlayson, Lounais-Suomen Jätehuolto, Paptic, SOL Pesulapalvelut Oy, MJV Sähkö, Infinited Fiber Company and Ari Ilmakunnas Oy.

The Ministry of the Environment’s project

In addition to the significant Tekes funding directed to businesses, the Telaketju project has received funding from the Ministry of the Environment. The Ministry is funding a project coordinated by Lounais-Suomen Jätehuolto, a waste management company based in Southwestern Finland. The project involves actors from municipal waste management, textile recycling and charity sectors. Other funding bodies include the Finnish Solid Waste Association, Finnish Textile & Fashion, the City of Turku, Lännen tekstiilihuolto and Ekokem. Project partners include Turku University of Applied Sciences, Helsinki Metropolitan Area Reuse Centre, Valonia, Finnish Environment Institute, Ekopartnerit, UFF, Pirkanmaan kierrätys ja työtoiminta, Turun seudun TST ry and FIDA. The total budget for the project component is EUR 205,000.

The total budget of the Telaketju project amounts to EUR 2.5 million.

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