Breakthrough technology enables world-class polyester recycling

60% of all newly produced textiles are made of polyester, but despite the large climate impact of fossil fuel production, only a negligible proportion is recycled. With its unique technology and business model for polyester recycling, Rewin wants to change that. The establishment of a facility for recycling polyester is part of an innovation project realized in collaboration with Wargön Innovation, with its experience in textile circularity, and Vargön Alloys, which contributes waste heat that will be used to create an energy-efficient recycling process.

Demand for recycled polyester is increasing from both industry and consumers, while the expected collection of textile waste will require new solutions to extend the life of textiles. Rewin is a pioneering Swedish company in the recycling industry. With its unique solution for fiber-to-fiber recycling of polyester, Rewin wants to be a leading force in the circular transition and take advantage of the polyester that today is largely burned.

- We know that polyester has long been the most commonly used material in the manufacture of clothing and textile products, but the production of polyester poses a significant environmental challenge. Today, less than 1% of all discarded textiles are recycled, and the same goes for polyester. Our goal is to minimize the industry's environmental impact and promote a circular and sustainable production cycle by recycling discarded polyester," says Henrik Wene, one of the founders of Rewin.

The basis of Rewin's pioneering process lies in the chemical extraction of pure polyester from collected textiles. The painstaking work of extraction results in the production of high-quality, refined polyester that is ready to be used in the production of new textiles. By summer 2024, the aim is to develop a first test facility for recycling at the Sege industrial area in Malmö. When it is ready for operation, the plan is to move it to Vargön Alloys at the Wargön Industrial and Innovation Park.

- "Over the next four years, we will optimize our technology in a test plant, and in the latter part of the project, the goal is to start building a full-scale plant. In addition to the environmental impact of polyester production, we see that future EU legislation is driving demand for fiber-to-fiber recycled polyester," says Anders Arkell, Technical Manager at Rewin. 

Recycled polyester can already be found in garments in an increasing number of shops, but Anders Arkell says consumers should not be fooled.

- The recycled polyester that companies use today comes from PET bottles. These should circulate in a closed system for the food industry and not be used to create textile fibers. Our solution provides a recycled polyester material through fiber-to-fiber recycling, helping to create its own closed system for polyester in the textile industry.

EU legislation paves the way

The EU has stepped up its efforts to reduce the environmental impact of textile production, including an update of the Waste Directive. As part of these changes, the EU is laying the groundwork for collecting textile waste separately, in a manner similar to the existing system for glass and cardboard. How the new directive will be implemented in Sweden is yet to be determined. If the extensive collection that the EU strives for, among other things, becomes a reality, it will mean large volumes of textile waste. These large volumes together with demands for increased sustainability and circularity for the industry create a clear demand for innovative and circular business solutions.

- Of the large amount of textiles that will be collected, as much as possible should go to reuse and secondarily to various repair and redesign services. However, no matter how much textile we can extend the life of, there will always be a great need for textile recycling, both of textiles that have reached the end of their life and textile waste from the industry. For Wargön Innovation, it is important to be involved in supporting the innovations that have great potential to make it possible to close the circle and create a circular and sustainable textile industry, says Markus Danell, Operations Manager at Wargön Innovation.

Industrial symbiosis creates environmental benefits

Recycling processes are energy-intensive and in order to increase environmental benefits, it is crucial to minimize the environmental impact of the energy used in the process. The strategic location of Rewin's plant next to Vargön Alloys makes it possible to create industrial symbiosis where waste heat from the smelter's production of ferrochrome is made available. Today, the waste heat is sold directly to the district heating networks in Vänersborg and Trollhättan.

- Our alloying furnaces generate high heat. The fact that another player can benefit from the high quality thermal energy is good for both of us. It obviously strengthens our environmental work, which has always been an important part of Vargön Alloys. It also provides concrete benefits for our business by allowing us to optimize the use of our resources," says Urban Frisk, plant manager at Vargön Alloys.