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Clothing brands now produce almost twice as much clothing as they did twenty years ago. What’s more, demand is expected to keep on growing. But clothes that are no longer worn are being dumped en masse into the environment without being recycled.

Therefore, the clothing industry is a major polluter. There is hardly any processing of textiles, and certainly, none that is circular and environment-friendly. The problem is the raw materials, such as cotton, polyesters, and other fossil-based fibers. As well as viscose, a type of cellulose that is widely used in clothing. However, it is not easy to separate textile fibers made of blended plastics with a mechanical process. A perfectly closed circular recycling system does not exist yet.

The European Union has awarded a grant of 7 million euros to the New Cotton Project.

The European Union believes that this has to change and – through the Horizon 2020 program – has awarded a grant of almost seven million euros to the New Cotton Project, which is to be launched this month. For the European Union, the recycling and reuse of clothing is a priority in order to promote sustainable growth. It is not for nothing that the New Cotton Project is based on a fully circular approach, in which the participants of the project not only focus on recycling, but also on reducing the use of raw materials and reusing textiles.

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In the New Cotton Project, twelve companies and institutions have joined forces with the aim of recovering valuable raw materials from discarded clothing. The ‘new’ fibers are spun into yarn, which can then be used as fabric for new clothing. The major driving force behind the project, which is to run for three years, is the Infinited Fiber Company. This is a Finnish company that uses a technique that converts clothing containing cellulose into processable textile fibers. Impurities, such as polyester or elastane, are separated in the process.

“It’s the first project in the world that demonstrates how the manufacture of clothing can be organized based on the principles of circular economics,” says Laura Vinha of Infinited Fiber Company. “During the three years of the project, textile waste will be collected, sorted, and pre-treated so that it can be processed into unique, high-quality textile fibers with the use of our patented technology.”

Frankenhuis, H&M and Adidas

Another participant in the New Cotton Project is the Dutch Frankenhuis company (from Haaksbergen), which transforms textiles back into high-quality fibers. H&M is also part of the consortium. The retail chain has been known for years for its ongoing campaign whereby consumers can drop off their discarded clothing (also from other brands and stores) in exchange for vouchers. The Swedish company now wants to go a step further by ultimately reusing the recovered fibers in newly manufactured clothing. Adidas is also a partner and is striving to create clothing and possibly shoes that are partly made of recycled fibers from the Infinited Fiber Company.

Let’s just hope that Lionel Messi still gets to score a lot more of those spitfire goals.

Read more Innovation Origin articles about about recycling clothing here,