The afterlife of your favourite garment

Sometimes – despite all the care, mending, washing with love and repairing – your favourite item of clothing simply reaches the end of its lifecycle. Since it had brought so much joy to you, you would not want it to end up as energy waste to be burned in an incinerator. How can a piece of clothing continue its journey and take a new shape?

The answer lies in circular economy. This year the separate collection of discarded textiles has expanded with municipal waste companies to cover the entire country.

The discarded textiles are collected and pre-sorted locally after which the pre-sorted textiles are brought for further processing to Turku, southwestern Finland. The material will be taken to the Paimio processing facility to be processed and made into recycled fibre for the textile industry.

– Only between 20 and 30 percent of the discarded textiles will have to be used as energy waste. This will decrease as the knowledge of the recyclers increases, says Anna Garton from Lounais-Suomen Jätehuolto Oy (LSJH), the municipal waste company coordinating the national recycling of discarded textiles.

Around 15 percent of the collected textiles can be used as such. The rest will be sorted and processed into raw material that can be utilised by the clothing, furniture and construction industry.

LSJH’s objective is clear. It aims to find the best circular economy solution for all discarded textiles. EU strategies also advocate for the use of recycled materials. Garton wishes companies would be active and test the suitability of recycled textile fibres for their operations.

– We maintain tight and open cooperation and work on product development with partners that need information and raw material. We are open to all kinds of material applications, Garton says.

This is how fibre is made

When your washed and dried favourite piece of clothing arrives to LSJH in Turku, it will, once again, be sorted. Trained, experienced specialists have an eye for detail and do a better job than a sorting machine would.

– In the future the ratio of work performed automatically by machines will increase, but because of the demanding nature of the job, someone specialised in discarded textiles cannot be replaced. The task requires a high level of competence, not everyone has what it takes, Garton says.

What comes as a surprise when visiting the facility, is that the piece of clothing goes to the opening of fibres with all the buttons and zippers still attached. They are separated in the processing line. Another surprising fact is that textile processing only requires water.

Your favourite item will ultimately lose its original shape when it is shredded to separate the fibres. After the initial opening and stretching, depending on the length of the fibre, the material is used accordingly. The length is determined in the opening stage. Long-fibre cotton can be used together with another fibre to be made into yarn and then fabric. Shorter fibre is suitable for different non-woven textiles, blankets and padding, and it can be used as raw material in the construction industry.

Recycled fibre goes well with new fibre

Clothing fabric made entirely from mechanically recycled fibre would, unfortunately, have a short lifespan. This is why fibre material is used together with new cotton fibre or other recycled material. Garton says that currently a fibre composition containing 30 percent of recycled fibre is the maximum limit for practical reasons. A new product cannot be second-grade quality which would quickly end up as waste again.

– However, it is not necessary to go for a higher percentage of recycled materials in blends. Even having five percent of recycled fibre would be very good and it would offer a solution for discarded textiles in Europe. On an industrial scale even two percent of recycled fibre in all textile products would be significant, says Garton.

In other uses the percentage of recycled fibre in blends could be even higher. This is confirmed by Jokipiin Pellava Oy, a company that is in cooperation with LSJH. It manufactures kitchen textiles from blended fabrics containing up to 50 percent of recycled fibre.

– We have conducted wash trials and found no particular difference in properties compared to virgin material, says Markku Laurila, CEO at Jokinpiin Pellava.

LSJH gave Jokipii the opportunity to conduct practical tests on recycled yarns. The companies work together trying to expand their use. Recycled yarn was proven suitable for production without difficulty.

– We are happy that we can be the forerunners in the use of recycled fibres. We will expand their use to other product groups in the near future, the first one being sauna textiles, Laurila says.

In addition, the customers of Jokipii are satisfied with products that are durable and manufactured more responsibly.

– I believe that the use of recycled fibres will definitely increase throughout the entire industry, Laurila says.

In use now – recycled in the future

Let’s go back a bit and take a closer look at discarded textiles. What kind of clothes, household textiles and fabrics in general are suitable for recycling?

Garton puts it simply: A piece of clothing has to be clean and dry. This is why recycling bins are situated indoors. Items with all kinds of glitter and sparkle or clothes that have different linings and layers cannot, at the moment, be utilised for fibre use.

– We don’t have a solution for layers since there is no way of separating or sorting the material in the different layers. And there is no suitable use for such mixed material.

Elastane is also on the list of raw materials that are difficult sort. Garton is hoping for the textile industry to limit its use.

When asked about recycled fibre materials, she says future-oriented thinking is vital.

– We are dependent on what has been used in the last 100 years. Clothes make an impact stretching far into the future and there is no sustainability with the current consumer culture that favours fast fashion.

From fibre to a new favourite garment

Fibre material manufactured in Paimio is produced made-to-order in a blend specified by the customer. Fibre intended for making clothes will continue its journey abroad as Finland does not manufacture yarn for weaving cloth. The final product, the fabric itself, is a combination of new and old – with a slightly greyish shade because the recycled fibre is not bleached.

– We will have hundreds of shades of grey in the world in the future, Garton says and laughs.


Now that the fibre has gone through recycling and completed a full circle, the favourite item might have become a new favourite item. It will, once again, bring joy. It will be looked after, washed with love and used in a clever way as part of an outfit.

You can see its history by looking at the washing instructions. In the label the manufacturer proudly tells the story of the item and the recycled fibre being part of its origin.


Read next 12/21

6 Textile Fibre Innovations – Leading the Textile Industry Revolution 12/21

This Is Finnish Fashion – Past, Present And Future 12/21

From Waste to Booming Business – The Finns And Circular Economy of Textiles 

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