Utilising recycled textile fibre offers a variety of potential uses for multiple different industries.
In this chapter, we will cover how companies can get started with using recycled textile fibre as their raw material and how they can lead the change towards circularity in their company.
In Finland, a company can start their journey towards the utilisation of mechanically recycled textile fibre by contacting Rester or Lounais-Suomen Jätehuolto. Product development and testing the material are done in collaboration with them and personalised depending on the end use of the fibre. The experts of Rester or LSJH advise your company in finding the material and production process suitable for your needs. In the picture below, we have summarised the process in simplified terms:
Mapping the required quality requirement and features.
Choosing the right composition (e.g. cellulose-based, mixed or synthetic fibres) and texture (fabric, shredded, fibre or “dust”).
Specifying the material’s sorting instructions and performing NIR (near infrared) identification if needed.
If there is no ready-made fibre, the refinement plant settings are adjusted and a test run is performed to ensure consistent quality of production.
The client receives a test batch for their own product development and testing.
Production of the raw material is begun upon agreement.
A circular economy refers to an economic model which focuses on sharing, renting and recycling instead of continuously producing new items and consumption based on ownership. The purpose of circular economy is that the value embedded in materials is maintained in the society for as long as possible. Business following the principles of circular economy is driven by multiple factors. A handbook compiled by Sitra highlights six trends towards a circular economy:
In this video, the associate professor Samuli Patala from Aalto University tells about the circular economy, its prerequisites, challenges and its special features in the context of the textile industry.
Responding to these trends requires companies to take up circular business models. According to the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, in its simplest terms, this could mean that companies should “digitalise and optimise their operations, utilise product-as-a-service models, and develop solutions that are smarter for both the client and the environment”. Circular business models can be roughly divided into five categories:
Utilising recycled textile fibre connects especially to renewability, resource efficiency and recycling. Nevertheless, each of these business models are exhibited in the circular transition of the textile industry, and a single company may make use of elements from several business model categories. Learn more about the circular business models especially in the manufacturing industry from the Circular Economy Playbook.
Aalto University’s Doctoral candidate Jukka-Pekka Ovaska has opened up his ideas about a company’s value proposition and revenue logic especially from the point of view of the Renewability business model. A value proposition refers to the company’s products and services, but in the wider sense also to the values the company represents, brand and the promise about how the company will solve a client’s problem with their products or services. Value proposition does therefore link closely to a client’s own values, identity and perception of the company’s brand. Ovaska gives Louis Vuitton as an example where the value proposition relates to luxury and status, whereas Patagonia’s value proposition, for example, is strongly based on environmentally friendly products.
“The Renewability business model offers a company a possibility to shape their value proposition especially in relation to the clients’ values. The value proposition in the Renewability business model is based on more environmentally friendly materials and their recyclability, which is of interest to many consumers and is worth bringing up clearly in communications and advertising”, Ovaska writes in his article.
In addition to value proposition, revenue logic – meaning where a company gets their turnover – is a central element in any type of business model.
“In the Renewability business model the revenue logic may very well remain the same as before: turnover is generated by selling textiles and clothes to clients. However, the revenue logic may be adjusted, for example, by changing the pricing along with the new value proposition. New products made of recycled materials may, for instance, be marketed to frontrunner customers with a premium price, which may also help covering possible additional material costs.”
It is, nevertheless, possible to combine different circular business models – and this way better respond to customers’ need and strengthen the company’s value proposition.
“By combining different strategies it is possible to improve the chances to recover materials back to the company’s use or in some other actor’s manufacturing processes. Touchpoint is a good example of combining different circular business models. In addition to Touchpoint designing their products for recycling, the company also offers various servicess, that prolong the products’ life cycle and improve their clients’ resource efficiency. Touchpoint enables a closed cycle for their products by taking in their clients worn-out workwear and recycling the clothes at the recycling plant of their subsidiary Rester in Paimio. Touchpoint’s value proposition is thus based on that the client does not need to take care of their workwear but they may concentrate on their own business operations.”
Jukka-Pekka Ovaska’s article can be found on FINIX’s webpage in Finnish.
There are many resources available for developing a circular business. Here are our recommendations.
Learn about sustainable business with a free online course offered by the Aalto University School of Economics.
The New Sustainability in Business is a hands-on, easily accessible open online course that explains how businesses can create sustainable value – not only for the economy, but also for the environment and society. The course is especially designed for business practitioners and university students interested in themes like corporate social responsibility, sustainable value creation and leading change towards sustainability. The course – supported with latest academic research and other key resources – contains 13 engaging and concise lessons that can be completed in a fully self-paced manner.
Product design is a crucial part of circular business as it is estimated that 80% of a product’s environmental impacts are determined by the designer. Circular product design differs from traditional model based on linear growth in that it aims at minimising the negative impacts throughout the product’s life cycle and maximise the positive. By deepening and developing the design processes of the company step by step, it is possible to advance circularity through the design phase. Design in circular business is indeed a more holistic, systemic process which emphasises both the power and the responsibility of the designer.
The product’s entire life cycle must be taken into consideration in circular product design. This means all the way from raw materials to production, processes, manufacturing, distribution, logistics, sales, use and recycling. In circular design, products are designed in a way that the material is circulated and maintained in the society for as long as possible. At its best, the choices made in the design phase, for example, about using recycled materials, may enable new business opportunities, such as buy back and resell services. Circular design requires the designer to holistically understand systems, the design context and the circular economy. In addition to knowing the manufacturing processes, the designer needs to understand also recycling processes.
Different strategies may be helpful in supporting design choices and providing guidelines for development work. Here we have summarised strategies presented in Kisu – designer’s guide (in Finnish, p. 24-47) that can be utilised in addition to traditional designers’ tools.
Every product wears out during use. Furthermore, users’ needs change and new trends and technologies shape our preferences. These all are risks for the product to becoming waste prematurely. By paying attention to these risks already during the design phase, it is possible to significantly impact the product’s longevity and the user’s decision to buy a new product. In circular design, it is important to take into account the use of the product in more versatile terms. The goal is to design versatile opportunities of use for the product in such a way that the functionality does not decrease. More about the topic in Kisu – designer’s guide on pages 55-77 (in Finnish).
The longevity of a product may be improved by paying attention to aesthetic longevity (for example the colour or feel of the material will change over time without preventing the product’s use) and physical longevity (qualities that prevent the product from breaking down or that conceal wearing out). This means considering quality of the product, i.e. the product’s ability to fulfil its purpose throughout its expected lifetime, maintenance and repair, which are influenced, for instance, by availability and modularity of parts, and different ways of wearing out and staining and their effect in aesthetics.
Below are our recommendations on some helpful resources for learning more about circular design!
Learn the basics of design and design thinking with Aalto University’s free online course! Chapter 3 is devoted to taking sustainable development into account in product development. Course page here
This is an introductory online course about design for non-designers: people who are curious about what design is, how designers work, and how to work with designers. Through seven chapters, we explain the basic definitions of design, introduce models for understanding the design process, and demonstrate the value of design in industry and society.
We introduce the four essential pillars of design today: sustainability, collaboration, innovation, and management. Through hands-on activities and reflections at the end of each chapter, we give you a taste of some widely-used design tools, guide you in thinking like a designer and show you possibilities for deepening your design studies at Aalto University.
Leading the circular economy transition requires companies to be bold and flexible to try out new things. The change is supported by low hierarchy, self organisation, an ability to solve problems fast and constructively as well as collaboration based on trust and open interaction between the company functions and within the supply chain. The professor of responsible business management at Aalto University, Minna Halme, sees that also the motivation of the personnel is an important factor – many of us want to advance sustainability in our work.
In Kuituus Twitter live discussions, experts shared their tips for a circular transition and getting started with recycled materials:
There are also challenges in a circular transition and in utilising recycled materials. The new material might not work in the same way as virgin material or there might be shortcomings in its availability or quality. Therefore it is important to keep the long-term goals in mind and keep looking for the most suitable raw materials for your company’s needs. In circular change, it is essential to try, learn, and maintain an iterative attitude towards plans.
The Finnish cleaning equipment company, Sinituote, is a great example, in which the internal motivation and the organisational flexibility of the company enabled the work towards circularity. Read the company’s story here!
According to the expert discussions on Kuituus Twitter live events, it is worth communicating the company’s circularity transition to clients, subcontractors and media. Sustainability can improve the company’s brand image and also clients expect more sustainability actions. It pays to make it as easy as possible for consumers to make a responsible purchasing choice, and communicate the sustainability of the product clearly on the product itself.
Furthermore, social media is an important communication channel in addition to traditional media and advertising. Nevertheless, communication should always be honest, accurate and open. It should also take into consideration the perspectives of various stakeholders. A company can openly tell about their commitment to sustainability by opening up their process and the failures experienced throughout their journey. As an example of sustainability communications on a company web page, see Arela’s sustainability page!
At times, it might be more of a challenge to motivate the subcontractors to start using recycled materials rather than communicating it to the end users. When communicating with the supply chain, it might be useful to emphasise how the consumers and the markets are more and more transitioning towards a sustainable, circular business.