Nordic pioneers transform end-of-life workwear into new textile raw materials

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A large-scale Nordic collaboration is now underway between two of the textile industry’s pioneers in the circular economy: Swedish textile service company Elis and Finnish recycling company Rester. End-of-life workwear from Elis goes through mechanical processing to extend its life as a new textile raw material.

elis and rester

Swedish textile service company Elis and Finnish recycling company Rester have started a collaboration where end-of-life work clothes from Elis are recycled and turned into new textile raw materials. Through mechanical processing, the garments are processed down to the smallest component and can be used as raw material in new products.

“Workwear can be complicated to recycle because they are often made from several different types of materials and textile mixtures.”

Caroline Düberg Martinsson, Sustainability Coordinator at Elis

Major environmental benefits

Both Elis and Rester are pioneers in the textile industry when it comes to the circular economy. With the cooperation, both companies are getting closer to their goals of helping to solve the industry’s challenges with textile waste. About 90 million tons of textiles are discarded annually worldwide. At the same time, textile production continues to increase and the textile industry accounts for ten percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Every Swede throws away an average of eight kilos of textiles a year.

“About 80 percent of a garment’s environmental impact is in the manufacturing phase. By recycling already produced materials, we minimise the need for new production, which saves large environmental resources. Textiles are not finished as materials just because a garment no longer meets the functional requirements.”

Caroline Düberg Martinsson

Largest in Northern Europe
Rester’s recycling plant in Pemar, Finland, opened in November 2021 and is the largest of its kind in Northern Europe. For every tonne of recycled fibre produced, over two million litres of water and more than five tonnes of CO2e are saved, compared to producing virgin textile fibres.

“Transitioning to a circular economy means a change throughout the value chain. Textile recycling requires commitment and willingness both from our suppliers of end-of-life textiles, such as Elis, and the companies that can use recycled fibres in their production. The change may, for example, involve introducing new practices or a change in the use of the fibre in relation to the technical characteristics or quality of the raw material. One of the keys to successfully using recycled fibre on an industrial scale is to find the best possible application for each material fraction, which leads to great environmental savings.”

Henna Knuutila, Customer and Development Manager at Rester

Scaling up the recycling plant also supports EU requirements for textile waste to be collected separately by 2025.

Pilot project with immediate results
The collaboration between Elis and Rester began as a pilot project in the summer of 2021 and quickly yielded results:

“So far, Elis has sent just over 8.8 tonnes of textiles to Rester for recycling, which corresponds to a saving of over 4,600 cubic metres of water and 32 tonnes of CO2e compared to new production. One of Elis’ sustainability goals by 2030 is that all discarded textiles should be used or recycled. Thanks to the cooperation with Rester, our end-of-life work clothes and other textiles can be reborn as raw material for new products, instead of being sent to energy extraction.”

Caroline Düberg Martinsson

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