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Paper or textile – why not textilepaper?

Waste generated by textile recycling can be used to make paper. Using this waste as a raw material instead of incinerating it also reduces our environmental impact.

Although most old textiles are reused, a certain percentage can be recycled into new textiles or for rags and insulation. Recycling produces unusable textile waste that is sent for incineration; however, researchers at RISE have demonstrated the possibility of using this byproduct in the manufacture of a new type of paper.

“We introduce waste from the textile material flow into a circular flow; that is, as a raw material in the paper industry. Thanks to this process, we are able to benefit from the entire textile flow,” says Mikael Magnusson, senior research associate in the field of bioeconomy at RISE.

Textilepaper reduces environmental impact

The clothing and textile industry is a major burden on the environment. The manufacturer of a pair of jeans uses tens of thousands of litres of water and enormous quantities of pesticides. Not only that but cotton is often grown in areas already suffering from a shortage of water, making it even more important to be able utilise and circulate the textiles produced.

“While the incineration of textiles does admittedly provide some return in terms of energy recycling, this represents enormous down-cycling as well as causing carbon dioxide emissions. Instead of this, we make use of the waste as a raw material resource, thereby minimising the environmental impact,” explains Mikael Magnusson. 

Although the use of textiles such as cotton in paper is nothing new in itself, the process developed by RISE means that the waste generated by textile recycling can be reused, something that was not previously the case. RISE has demonstrated that textile waste can be incorporated into forestry’s circular material flow, improving the sustainability of two industries simultaneously. Researchers are now working to upscale the concept for industrial use. 

“We can have the technique on the market tomorrow, we’re just waiting for someone who is willing to implement it. A number of stakeholders have already shown an interest and I think we will see it on the market in the not too distant future.”

Adapting fibre is the challenge

The challenges in developing textilepaper have primarily involved process technologies; for example, fibre pretreatments and paper processing adaptions.

“How, for example, do we adapt cotton fibres – which are long – to paper machines that are optimised for short fibres? That has been one of the challenges,” says Mikael Magnusson, who also explains that another challenge has been ensuring that the flow is free of contamination.


Award-winning degree project

The manufacturing concept was also evaluated by Archana Ashok of KTH, who was awarded Best Degree Project 2017 by the Bo Rydin Foundation for Scientific Research for her master's degree project Textile paper as a circular material, on the value of using textilepaper as a circular packaging material for paper bags. Archana focused on the technical performance as well as the environmental and economic aspects of the new material. Her results demonstrated that it is better to use low-value textile fibres as a circular material, rather than incinerating them.