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Photo: Maria Maukonen

Recycling and Traceability in Focus at this Year's Techtextil

Last week, it was time for Techtextil in Frankfurt, a major textile fair held every other year focusing on technical textiles. Material developers, fiber spinners, weavers, and machine manufacturers from various parts of the industry and the world were present to network and explore trends for the future. Of course, RISE was there to do the same. 

For those who haven't visited the Frankfurt Messe, it resembles a large airport with long corridors and escalators connecting different exhibition halls on multiple floors. The halls were divided into categories such as fiber & yarn, production techniques, functional textiles and coatings, with a focus on industries including automotive, medtech and geotextiles. Various research institutes and industry organizations were also present. The fair was exceptionally well-attended this year with 38,000 visitors, a 29 percent increase from previous years. For us at RISE, it was an excellent opportunity to meet existing and potential project partners, spread the word about what we do, and stay updated on what's happening in the technical textile sector. 

A central theme at this year's Techtextil was recycling. The textile industry is well aware that recycling is an essential part of efforts to achieve climate goals, but the challenges are still significant. Achieving the same quality as virgin material with 100% recycled waste streams is one of the biggest challenges, especially for high-performance materials with technical applications. Many companies can incorporate a certain percentage of thermo-mechanically recycled textile waste, usually industrial waste, into their fibers and yarns, but the majority still consists of newly produced material. 

Thermo-mechanical recycling involves melting down and extruding the waste into new pellets, which can then be reused in the melt spinning process. When talking about 100% recycled textiles, it primarily refers to PET bottles that have been melted and given new life. The realization that this is not sustainable in the long run and that the methods for recycling textiles need improvement was widespread among the fair's visitors and exhibitors. Chemical recycling has made the most progress here, involving breaking down the material into its basic components and rebuilding it anew. This generates a material with equivalent quality to virgin production. 

But recycling is also a matter of cost. The term "Econogy," which was frequently used during Techtextil, combining the words economy and ecology, emphasizes the importance of balancing these two aspects. As long as recycled fibers and yarns are more expensive, they will struggle to compete with virgin ones. However, the technical textile sector has an advantage here since its products are usually more expensive and may potentially bear a higher raw material cost. 

With the impending digital product passport to be implemented within the EU by 2030, traceability was also a recurring topic at Techtextil. The digital product passport, or DPP as it's also known, means that every textile product sold within the EU must have traceable information about its origin, material content, and sustainability, among other things. The idea is for the DPP to prevent textile waste and make it easier for companies and consumers to make sustainable choices. However, how the DPP will be implemented in practice is still under discussion. One option is to use QR codes, attached in the same way as care labels, which can provide consumers with information about the product's journey. However, these QR codes can be cut off or disappear during the product's lifecycle, so other alternatives are also being developed. One such alternative is pigments added during the fiber spinning process, which can be traced throughout the entire lifecycle. 

This year's Techtextil was a lively fair, which is a good sign for us at RISE. It means that research and development still remain high on the agenda for textile companies across Europe, despite the uncertain global situation. One thing is certain, to tackle the future challenges in material transition, we need to continue to meet and collaborate.

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