Recycling old cotton into new clothes: The major innovation finally coming

Banking more partnerships is the only way Renewcell’s production will also grow – and that does not happen overnight. Walking through the massive facility – an old paper mill that had announced it was shutting down due to declining demand for paper globally at exactly the time Renewcell was scoping a location for a commercial facility – workers are laboring non-stop to get the machinery up and running. “If you want it in 10 years, you need to commit now,” she says.

While the Renewcell team for now is zeroed in on getting the Sundsvall facility up and running, they have long-term ambitions, too. The company’s goal is to produce at least 360,000 tons by 2030. Next steps, says Fredricsdotter, will include expanding production to other regions – perhaps in the US, and in Asia and Africa, “to take care of all the waste that we have shipped there, ”she says. “One in each continent would be fantastic” – while also working on additional innovation locally. One research focus they are already exploring is to use the same pulp to produce a filament fiber – rather than a staple fiber, which is the viscose replacement they are already scaling. The filament fiber, Eslander explains, could be used to make a silk-like material and is something that luxury brands have shown interest in.

As important as textile recycling is, however, it’s only one gap of many that fashion needs to address to meet its goals. Eslander is conscious that textile recycling is not a silver bullet for the industry’s full suite of problems, and says they have conversations with brands to avoid becoming a mechanism for enabling unnecessary waste.

“If we can, we do not want to take overproduction, we do not want to work with brands to recycle the clothes they can not sell,” she says, explaining that they’re talking with brands and suppliers as much as they can about their role and how to shift the industry towards the most resource-efficient. “It’s reuse, it’s remake, resell, it’s remake again, resell again – and then it’s Renewcell.”

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