Circular economy Finland aims for a recycling plant that would handle a large part of textile waste in EU countries – The project will create thousands of jobs, says the industry interest group

Recycling of textile waste will become mandatory by 2025. One of the largest processing sites may be in Paimio in the future.

Finland could be one of the largest textile waste handlers in Europe in a few years’ time if the ongoing circular economy project materializes.

The European Commission has decided that the collection of textile waste will become mandatory by 2025. This means that several new treatment plants will have to be built in the next few years.

The EU directive on the collection of textile waste applies to households and businesses.

The Finnish Textile and Fashion Interest Organization is involved in a project that proposes the establishment of textile recycling centers in a total of five member countries. In addition to Finland, they are Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.

Euratex, the industry umbrella organization, and the national organizations in the Member States are proposing a coordinated system for waste textiles in order to recover as much of the textile material as possible.

“Currently, only 3 to 8 percent of textiles end up in recycling. On the other hand, textiles account for less than 10% of all waste streams, so it is not advisable to set up treatment plants in each country separately, ”says the leading expert. Satumaija Mäki About the Finnish Textile and Fashion Association.

Recycling project the priority is to create an efficient value chain that connects collectors, processors and users.

Currently, the vast majority of textiles rejected by consumers end up in mixed waste and incinerated, where the material is utilized for energy. However, it is not very effective.

In addition, a lot of discarded textiles end up outside the EU, for example through the clothing collections of charities. At the same time, the amount of separately collected waste textiles in the Union has risen from two million tonnes to 2.8 million tonnes in five years.

Waste management in southwestern Finland is involved in a project to collect consumer waste textiles for further processing.­

With the entry into force of the collection obligation, the amount is expected to double. Therefore, there is a desire to develop more efficient downstream uses for waste textiles, which would also be economically viable.

It requires the collection of textiles to be coordinated between EU countries so that potential downstream users are close to collection centers.

To this end, Euratex is seeking funding from the Commission of EUR 500 million over the next five years.

Finns have been active in promoting the circular economy: the collection system would be introduced early, in 2023.

One example of this is a treatment plant that is currently being built in Paimio, Southwest Finland. The project is backed by a company called Rester, whose chairman is the board Outi Luukko.

He has a long career in the design and apparel industry, where he has served as CEO of Touchpoint, a manufacturer of workwear.

At the moment, Luukko is investing especially in the circular economy. The aim is to create a complete business concentration in Paimio, which, in addition to the processing plant, would include companies that could utilize materials made of waste textiles as raw materials.

“Paimio is along key transport connections and at a good distance from the Port of Turku, for example. When textile collection begins, various fractions such as polyester, cotton, and various blends are made available. The aim is to find the best possible value chain for different materials, ”says Luukko.

According to him, discussions on further processing have already taken place with several companies. The most important partner in collection and sorting is the consortium of municipalities in Southwest Finland, which takes responsibility for the treatment of waste textiles collected from consumers. Rester, on the other hand, is responsible for the material collected from the companies.

The quantities are large, as Finland already accumulates 70–100 million kilos of discarded clothes every year.

What removals then done?

There are companies in Finland that have utilized collection materials for a long time. For example, Dafecor, based in Tureng, began manufacturing carpeting mats from the textile industry’s by-products as early as the 1990s.

The processing plant, which will be built in Paimio, will possibly start operations as early as next summer, says Outi Luukko, the founder of the Rester company.­

Removal textiles are also utilized, for example, as underlays for parquet floors and as part of composite materials.

At present, the textile fibers of waste clothing do little to recycle back into the clothing industry. Uses need to be invented elsewhere.

In Germany, one of the biggest users is the automotive industry, which uses textiles in sound insulation and various cushions. For example, textiles are mixed into the composite structures of car dashboards, which makes the structure lighter.

On the other hand, the possibilities of use in Finland are still poorly identified.

“For example, there would be a lot of potential in the shipbuilding industry and furniture manufacturing. Removal textiles are treated mechanically by tearing, and they are often not very beautiful, but they could be used in furniture upholstery, for example, ”says Satumaija Mäki.

To date, France has been the only EU country where clothing manufacturers and sellers have producer responsibility and an obligation to collect waste clothes centrally.

However, in France, almost no use has been invented for all disposal textiles, but it is still being sent in huge quantities for processing outside the EU.

This is one of the problems that the fashion umbrella organization Euratex wants to find solutions with the funding of the European Commission. According to Mäki, closed-loop models, in which recycled textiles would be completely re-used, are already close to the commercialization stage.

For example, the Espoo-based company Infinited Fiber is currently testing a technology that could be used to make new textile fiber from textile waste. If implemented, such technology could revolutionize the clothing market.

In the beginning however, the biggest challenge is arranging the textile collection itself. Outi Luukko says that the Paimio treatment plant will be operational next summer.

At the beginning, the operation is still small: Luukko estimates that one processing line will employ 10 to 20 employees. However, there are hopes for greater employment potential in the sector.

Euratex has estimated that about 20 workers are hired for every tonne of clothing recycled. In Finland alone, this would mean about 1,400 employees when the collection obligation of the EU Waste Directive enters into force.

Then you have to figure out how to make the use of recycled fibers profitable.

“After all, we are solving the problem of companies, which is to remove extra textiles responsibly. In the beginning, of course, it is an expense for companies. But the goal is to make this a commercial activity for all parties, and success depends on what kind of value chain can be built on recycled fiber, ”says Luukko.

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