Textile & Fashion Forum juttusarja: Business Finland boosts the green transition in the textile industry
Finland has long invested in innovations in the textile industry and especially in the circular economy. Globally, Finland is at the forefront of developing textile recycling and new textile fiber innovations. Business Finland plays a key role in supporting and financing the research and development of circular economy and product development of innovation companies. Concrete examples of business and innovation in the textile industry within Business Finland are Lounais-Suomen Jätehuolto, Vaatelaastari and Nordic Bioproducts Group.
Photo: Lounais-Suomen Jätehuolto (LSJH)
The demand for textile fibers is growing faster than production, which already causes a shortage of textile fibers. ”The demand for textile fibers is estimated to continue increasing until 2030, but it will be difficult to expand the production of cotton fibers any further. A lot of chemicals are used in cotton cultivation, which reduces biodiversity. Also, a lot of water is required, and there is a shortage of water supplies, too. It will be interesting to see how the predicted food shortages will affect cotton cultivation, whether, for example, cotton fields should be transferred back to food production,” says Marika Ollaranta, Head of Decarbonizing Industries, RRF, at Business Finland.
”Worldwide, around 85 percent of textile waste will be burned or ended up to the landfill. After all, it’s about burning good raw materials and whether they could be reused. A garment or a kilo of cotton is a valuable material and a lot of natural resources have been used for it, therefore it is important to value clothes and textiles and keep them in circulation for as long as possible”, Ollaranta points out.
The textile industry produces an estimated 10 percent of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. The industry has had it easy so far, but many brands are now facing changes in order to remain a desirable option for consumers, and not just because of the requirements of EU regulation. According to Ollaranta, the purchasing behavior of consumers has clearly changed during the corona pandemic: ”According to research, 50 percent of young EU citizens prioritize sustainability when they make purchasing decisions. Consumers in their twenties are already strongly driven by the fact that they buy recycled clothes instead of new ones. People have the mentality to have even a small possibility of influencing the huge chaos.”
FabPatch is an everyday act for greener future
FabPatch™ is an ecological patch that attaches to clothes by rubbing. It was developed by Oikiat Design Oy from Oulu. FabPatch has been awarded the rights to use both Design from Finland mark and Key Flab Symbol. Repair services and products are one important part of the circular economy of the textile industry.
FabPatch – known in Finland as Vaatelaastari (band-aid for clothes) – is a repair innovation for textiles, which was developed by Finnish moms for their own needs, for clothes with holes and forgotten sewing skills. The core of the company’s operation is to bring DIY repair into the everyday life of consumers. FabPatch is a customizable textile repair patch that extends the life of almost any textile. The patch is attached by rubbing and does not need heat to adhere.
”We have tried to optimize the product so that it is as easy to use as possible, beautiful, ecological and long-lasting. The adhesive for the patch is solvent-free, vegan and flexible, and we use ecological materials as much as possible”, says Jetta Liukkonen, CEO of Oikiat Design Oy.
One hole or stain does not make the garment waste. FabPatch strives to ensure that usable clothing is not sent for recycling too early. In addition to repairing, you can also decorate and beautify clothes with the patches. The design of their patterns is created by Finnish designers, and the manufacturing is done entirely in Finland.
A small ecological act can be bigger than its size
”At the core of our innovation is the product’s ease, versatility and customization. A completely similar product does not exist. We have developed a new manufacturing method that is protected. The product is Finnish, and we use special techniques nearby,” says Liukkonen.
As a product, FabPatch is still young, and it is constantly being developed. Commercialization a good speed, the product has its own webstore and is also sold through retailers. The company has a clear plan for the internationalization of operations with the newly realized Tempo funding of Business Finland, and it is already being done indirectly through retailers and brand partners.
”We are on the threshold of big growth, which requires more investments. The availability and price increase of raw materials are concerning. The textile industry has been pretty much run down in Finland, and we hope that we could get recycled raw material from here. Interest in patching has grown during the corona pandemic and with the war in Ukraine, people want to live more economically and responsibly. Every small ecological act is meaningful, and we are determined to move forward with small steps,” says Liukkonen.
LSJH’s innovation ability brings a holistic approach into recycling of post-consumer textiles
The municipal waste company Lounais-Suomen Jätehuolto Oy (LSJH) located in Southwestern Finland has created a network with its partners that will be responsible for the nationwide collection of end-of-life textiles from households in Finland as of 2023. At the new circular economy processing facility for end-of-life textiles in Paimio LSJH processes and refines post-consumer textiles into high-quality raw material for various industries.
The processing facility opened at the end of 2021 is Northern Europe’s first circular economy facility to refine end-of-life textiles into recycled fiber on a large scale, which contributes significantly to solving the challenges of textile processing and reuse.
Sustainable cooperation from collection to product development
LSJH coordinates the nationwide collection and sorting network, which currently covers 29 municipal waste facilities throughout Finland. Municipal waste companies and their subcontractors pre-sort the end-of-life textiles collected from residents locally.
Usable clothes and household textiles get a new life when they are separated and reused as originally intended. The damaged materials that end up in the collection will be utilized as burnable waste to energy. The rest of the pre-sorted material is post-consumer textiles, which is delivered to LSJH’s sorting hall in Turku for a material-based quality check and for refining at the processing facility in Paimio.
The end-product of the processing is textile raw material in different textures, such as fibers, fine fibers shredded or shoddy. Recycled fiber can be used by manufacturers of yarn, fabrics, non-wovens and composites in the textile, construction, furniture, shipbuilding and automotive industries. Only imagination is the limit when there is a real desire to develop the products of the future.
The time for utilizing recycled fibers in the textile and fashion industry is now
Creating a market for recycled raw materials is a challenge as long as the price of virgin raw materials is artificially driven down. Price still matters. Companies that use and produce recycled raw materials need support. More research money and funding for investments are needed, so that risk-taking and uncertainty during the transformation do not fall only on individual companies
”LSJH is a 100% sustainable cooperation partner with functioning networks, resources to produce raw material according to customer needs. We provide a wide variety of textile raw material certified with the Key Flag for different industries and their production chains. Eco-recycled wool yarns and kitchen towels made of recycled linen produced from post-consumer textile fibers are already on the market, and the first Finnish clothing collection will be available at the beginning of 2023,” says Anna Garton, who is responsible for the development of LSJH’s recycling textile production chains.
Nordic Bioproducts Group's innovation turns cellulose into textile
Nordic Bioproducts Group (NBG) is a spin-off company of Aalto University that develops and commercializes smart technologies which can turn cellulose into new bioproducts of high processing value. The AaltoCellTM and Norratex technologies developed by NBG advance textile fibre manufacturing by solving the challenges of energy, chemicals and water as well as improving the environmental friendliness and sustainability of the process.
NBG’s patented AaltoCellTM technology can be used to refine a wide variety of cellulose-containing substances into new applications. It can be used, for example, as part of the textile waste recycling process, allowing textile waste to be turned into new textiles and other high quality end products.
Another innovation developed by NBG is Norratex textile fiber, which can be produced without toxic chemicals and expensive solvents. The Norratex technology can make a major contribution to sustainable development by using the by-products of responsibly grown forests and forestry to produce textiles. Norratex also gives the forest industry the opportunity to produce an environmentally friendly viscose substitute at a competitive price. NBG’s partner is the Chilean CMPC.
”The textile industry’s main raw materials are polyester, cotton and cellulose based man-made fibers, of which viscose is the biggest. We have developed a method in which viscose can be produced without carbon disulfide, which significantly improves viscose’s environmental friendliness, reduces the carbon footprint and increases sustainability,” says Olli Kähkönen, Nordic Bioproducts Group’s co-founder and Head of Innovation.
The commercialization of innovations requires funding
”Increasing sustainability in the textile industry is a very important task for us. Our goal is to create technologies that enable the production of sustainable and environmentally friendly textile fibres. We want to build a reliable production chain that takes into account the actual emission reduction impacts based on life cycle calculation,” says Kähkönen.
Globally, the greatest interest is in the utilization of recycled textile waste and finding solutions for it. Another major area of interest is non-forest-based materials and the utilization of lignocellulosic materials from agricultural by-streams. Kähkönen says that according to the sustainability calculation, Finnish softwood pulp would produce a textile fibre with a very low carbon footprint and at the same time the highest added value for Finland.
”Solutions are needed on how to support innovations so that they can be commercialized and industrialized. In Finland, research into new types of textile fibers is the most advanced in the world, and we have produced the most innovations and technologies. The situation is unique, but do we know how to take advantage of it?”