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How Denmark wants to become a circular frontrunner

By Simone Preuss

11 May 2021



A group of Denmark’s largest players have come together for a project called ReSuit: Recycling Technologies and Sustainable Textile Product Design. Its aim is to redraw the boundaries for fashion design, recycling technologies and consumer behaviour to achieve a more sustainable textile industry and the recycling of all textile waste in Denmark.

The country’s leading research and technology company Danish Technological Institute has gathered a number of significant players for this purpose: Bestseller, Elis and Design School Kolding within fashion and textiles as well as A/S Dansk Shell in the field of raw material production, Naboskab for consumer behaviour and the recycling technology experts Aarhus University, Fraunhofer and Danish Technological Institute. 

Circularity through collaboration

“Yearly, 100 billion textile units are produced worldwide, and they are to a great extent treated as disposable cutlery. Materials worth 400 billion euros are lost as we lack infrastructure and solid recycling technologies on a very large scale. In this project, we are looking to get all textile waste in Denmark into a loop where it can become new textiles or raw materials for other products. If it succeeds, it can become a game changer,” explains Anders Lindhardt (PhD) from Danish Technological Institute, which is in charge of the project, in a press release.

To do this, the project will address the problem from two angles: design and technology. One question is, how the textile industry can get better at designing sustainably and the other, which technologies can ensure circularity for consumer textile waste?

A two-pronged approach: design and technology

In terms of design, the focus will be on the sustainable design of textile products, i.e. textiles that are designed with recycling in mind. This means phasing out substances - as far as possible - that are not suitable for future recycling technologies and in supplying design guides for sustainable textile products.

“Circularity is not a stock commodity. We need disruptive innovation to create the circular solutions we strive for at Bestseller. It is an enormously complex field, which is why we are working on multiple elements simultaneously to be able to secure the sustainable fashion production of the future. With ReSuit, we are part of an ambitious and multifaceted collaboration,” says Camilla Skjønning Jørgensen, sustainable materials & innovation manager at Bestseller.

“Here, Bestseller’s circular design principles come into a meaningful context and if the project manages to develop proper technologies from various knowledge areas, we will see a unified solution with far-reaching potential – not just in Denmark and not just for Bestseller –which is exactly what we are aiming for,” adds Skjønning Jørgensen.

Consumers have to step up too

Without the support of consumers, the project can only go so far. That is why, at the same time, waste plans and green solutions provider Naboskab, which specialises in understanding and changing consumer behaviour, will map out how consumers can be motivated to act sustainably.

When it comes to textile waste, the project focuses on the 85,000 tonnes of clothes and textiles that enter the Danish market every year. In the end, more than half of these materials are incinerated as waste. From 2022, Denmark will start sorting clothes separately - and from 2025 the rest of the European Union will follow.

“Polyester accounts for half of all clothes fibres in the world. Therefore, we will further develop technology based on chemical recycling to recycle the polyester materials so that they can return to the textile industry,” says Lindhardt.

HTL applied to textiles

For the remaining textile products, the project envisions degrading them using so-called HTL technology (hydrothermal liquefaction), which is well-known and robust in general, but ground-breaking when applied to textiles: Under the influence of water, heat and pressure, the technology make it possible to convert the complex textile stream into oil products that can be used for the production of plastic, fuel or synthetic textile fibres, for example. 

As part of the project, the HTL technology would be further developed and scaled up in collaboration with petroleum refiner A/S Dansk Shell, a company that has successfully tested the possibility of refining bio-oil products and sees opportunities for the recycling of other oil products.