Last week, during the Euregio Convention in Brussels, Saxion lecturer Jan Mahy presented the ambitious plans for circular textiles that Saxion and its collaboration partner have. Over the next three years, the TexPlus Foundation will give the circular economy for textile flows in our region a huge boost.
The Smart Functional Materials research group is participating enthusiastically in the project. Jan says, 'Our regional initiative will be a stepping stone for combining our knowledge within Europe with that of other countries, and for scaling up textile recycling enormously. It is good that we are taking action together.’
Jan, what exactly is in the pipeline?
‘Many European regions and cities present their plans during the Euregio Convention in Brussels. That produces valuable contacts and collaborations. I presented our plans for circular textile flows on behalf of the Eastern Netherlands region. Together with several other organisations, we are taking steps based on the regional deal. Over the next three years, we will get to work with clear objectives to make our regional textile economy more circular. In Brussels, I explained how we are going to go about doing that and how I see this regional initiative as a blueprint to build on at European level.'
Which organisations will Saxion be working with?
‘We are working together in the TexPlus Foundation with textile collector Twente Milieu and two textile sorters: Het Goed and De Beurs. Frankenhuis, based in Haaksbergen, is also a collaborative partner. This company is able to recycle textiles mechanically. They separate clothing, after which the fabric is used again, for example as stuffing for car doors. Saxion is represented in the foundation, together with spin-off company SaXcell, which is able to recycle cotton into high-quality source material using chemicals. We bring together the knowledge and capacity needed for collecting, sorting, fiberising and upgrading textiles. For us, it is mainly about cotton. We combine the fibres into yarns which Enschede Textielstad, a start-up company, uses to weave new fabrics.’
What will you do in the next three years?
‘We want to double the volume of collected textile, as well as the volume of textile sorted into pure material flows. These material flows, for example cotton, polyester and viscose, all require different kinds of recycling. Together with field labs, our textile sorters are looking for connections with local target groups and initiatives. Together with schools, care homes or other communities, they will look at how we can change consumer attitudes towards the disposal, collection and recycling of clothing. The question of what we can organise locally is also a factor. Our plans are ambitious, but we see them as a blueprint for scaling up at a later stage. This upscaling is necessary if the process is to become financially feasible. I’m also thinking geographically and in terms of numbers, by seeking cooperation with other European players. We are working towards local sourcing and local sales, which is exactly the opposite of how today’s world of fast fashion operates.’
How do you break through that mechanism of this fast fashion world?
‘That model is simply no longer sustainable: in Canada they’re cutting trees, which are sent to India to be processed into viscose, which is then turned in textiles in Vietnam, which are sent to Italy for processing into fabrics and ultimately are made into garments for consumers in England. Fast fashion is “from cradle to waste”, as we like to call it on the international stage. As it stands now, less than 1% of all textile products are recycled. The remaining 99% are burned, buried or end up in our oceans. That has to change and we all very well aware of that of course. With our regional initiative, we are investigating how we can do this in practice.’
So you are going to start regionally and expand into Europe?
‘That is correct, because more needs to be done. We cannot do it alone. There is a lot of good work being done in Europe, but the landscape is fragmented. We have to join forces much more, if we are to use each other’s knowledge. The Retex project, which involves recycling synthetic textiles, is underway in Belgium, while we know more about cotton recycling thanks to our SaXcell project. We even have a unique position in this. In England, they’re running the Reset project, which focuses on influencing local consumer behaviour in terms of collection, production and sales. We, in turn, can use that knowledge. I also spoke with representatives from Finland and Italy when we were in Brussels. There are plenty of opportunities for cooperation, so we can achieve something at European level.’
What role can Saxion play at a regional level first?
‘We are doing it together, but Saxion is playing an important role. With SaXcell, we have developed the knowledge needed to recycle cotton into high-quality fibres that can be used as raw materials. Saxion of course also has a long tradition in textile education. Based on that tradition, we have a wide network of old and new regional companies that see us as a knowledge institute that wants to share ideas and work together. We are also seen as the organisation that helps them to discuss the subject by the processors, the weavers and the designers. We share that textile tradition with our region and Saxion can play a connecting role in this. With the Smart Functional Materials research group, we want to become a knowledge and innovation hub. For the region and preferably beyond. In turn, we need other parties: the corporate sector, universities and knowledge institutes. We must work together to boost the circular textile economy.’
Do you think you’ve got the green light?
‘In Brussels I referred to the moon landing. July of this year marked 50 years since that event. Back in the day, the moon was on everyone’s mind. On Earth, things were set to remain the same forever. Three years later, the Club of Rome published the ‘Limits to Growth’ report. That was our first eye-opener: it predicted that our world would change radically within 50 to 100 years in the wake of unbridled growth. Things on Earth would not continue to go well as a matter of course. Since then, we have held meetings, written piles of reports, formulated sustainable development goals and looked around to see who would take the first step. We have now reached the stage where we realise that we really have to make the first move. Fortunately that’s what’s happening. In the Eastern Netherlands, we will certainly be taking steps in the field of textiles, and we will carry on looking for connections with Europe on this subject.’
The TexPlus Foundation is a joint venture between seven Overijssel leaders in the field of circular textiles. From collection and processing through to the manufacturing of end products: the whole chain is represented in the foundation. Participants are Twente Milieu, Het Goed, SaXcell, Saxion, Enschede Textielstad, Frankenhuis and De Beurs. The foundation’s work is shaped by Regiodeal Circulair Textiel for the Eastern Netherlands Region.