CEresearchNRW: The EU Circular Economy Action Plan – circular textiles?

Zu sehen ist das Profilbild von Julian Mast.

Julian Mast

The EU Circular Economy Action Plan - circular textiles?

For the already twentieth web seminar our CEresearchNRW team invited to the topic “circular textiles” in the
Circular Economy Action Plan Context.

Following the construction industry in February, the textile industry was the second product value chain to be examined in March. In addition to another large crowd of interested people, we also welcomed three speakers for their technical presentations.

These were Prof. Dr. Stefan Schlichter from the Institute of Textile Technology Augsburg (ITA), Dr. Volker Berding from the German Federal Environmental Foundation (DBU) and Tobias Herzog from Tailorlux GmbH in Münster. Prof. Schlichter started the presentations by explaining the challenges for the textile industry on the way to a Circular Economy, Dr. Berding presented the funding opportunities through the DBU with regard to Circular Economy measures in the textile industry. In the concluding presentation, Managing Director Tobias Herzog showed us the possibilities offered by chemical markers to his company for sorting and
Offer reprocessing of textile materials.

Prof. Schlichter began his presentation by pointing out the importance of environmental awareness in the context of the textile sector. This is responsible for about 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions (one T-shirt
requires approx. 11 kg CO2-eq. in its production). However, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, only 1% of the world’s existing textile products are currently recycled and returned to the textile cycle, while
almost three quarters could only be landfilled or thermally recycled. This shows that the reality of the circular economy in Germany is very different from the aspirations of German decision-makers. For example, the separate collection of textiles, which will be regulated by the Closed Substance Cycle Waste Management Act (KrWG) from 2025 onwards, poses a major problem in terms of operational implementation, which many municipalities have not yet been able to solve. One of the reasons for this is the versatility and multifunctionality of textiles. Contrary to popular belief, textiles are not only used as clothing, but also in other applications, such as the production of clothing. as diapers, technical textiles in the automotive sector, floor coverings or input materials on construction sites. Due to limited time, Schlichter mainly referred to the apparel industry in the course of his presentation, in the context of which he reported on declining product quality and increasing collection volumes (fast fashion). 

The activities of the Augsburg Institute of Textile Technology and Schlichter’s chair at Augsburg University of Applied Sciences, as well as his activities at RWTH Aachen University, therefore also include research into and application of recycling and closed-loop management options for textiles. The vision of the Institute is characterized by longer use of textiles. These are to remain longer in the textile cycle of the economic system through Reuse (reusing), Repair (repairing) and similar strategies.
Schlichter emphasized that recycling textiles is not just a matter of keeping them in the system as cleaning rags; rather, companies need such alternatives, which also provide them with monetary
Offer incentives. Accordingly, the companies must still be able to earn money with the recycled textiles. For this reason, the ITA designed a model workshop, the Recyclingatelier Augsburg. In this, the focus is on product and process development for textile secondary raw materials. The concept of the studio includes several stages of analysis and processing. These are: (1) material analysis, (2) sorting (by sensory detection), (3) preparation, (4) processing of the
Textiles, (5) Spinning, (6) Product Design, and (7) Workshop. 

In the second presentation, Dr. Berding introduced the German Federal Foundation for the Environment. Since 1991, the foundation has supported more than 10,000 projects, of which over 50% involve small and medium-sized
Company. Funding is primarily provided for projects with scalable improvements in environmental impacts in the context of industrial processes and products. Accordingly, the overarching themes of the funding programs are (1) environmental technology, (2) environmental research and conservation, and (3) environmental communication and cultural property protection. As part of this, the DBU developed the
DBUcirconomy funding initiative, in which economic and social models of the future are developed and tested. Berding emphasized that Circular Economy, despite the same term (German: Kreislaufwirtschaft), goes far beyond the already long existing circular economy according to KrWG. Rather, he said, the CE encompasses a large network of actors who, through the use of selected raw materials, product design, repair networks, and the like, ensure that products and materials remain within the economic system in the longer term. The creation of circular solutions goes far beyond a single company; rather, various individual operational components are closely interlinked, creating interfaces between a large number of companies. Accordingly, increasing circularization requires a cultural change and the creation of joint networks. The behavior of consumers plays a role that has been underestimated and little studied up to now; they are often not involved in finding and developing solutions, neither in research nor in practice. 

In the context of promoting circular textile projects, the DBU established the funding initiative “Cross-company solutions for textile cycles”. The DBU considers projects to be particularly worthy of support if they offer innovative technical and economic solutions that can be put into practice in a timely manner. Solutions may include value network approaches, cascade systems for products, components and materials. Thematic proposals are: (1) innovative business models, (2) IT-based solutions for business models (e.g. sharing, collaboration platforms), (3) education, communication or qualification networks for implementation.
circular approaches, (4) innovative technologies and processing methods for material blends, (5) circular textile logistics. However, if a project makes sense, another topic can also be discussed about it
be promoted beyond. The duration of the funding is between 12 and 36 months for a funding volume of 100,000 – 400,000€. Deadline for submission of project outlines for the above initiative is 03/31/22. For more information, feel free to visit the DBU website.

In the third presentation, Tobias Herzog introduced us to the solution approaches of the company he represents, Tailorlux GmbH, which has already been able to benefit from the DBU’s funding measures. As a spin-off of the University of Münster, Tailorlux GmbH develops business models and solutions in the field of supply chain transparency and sorting capability. The company offers a “fingerprint,” a heat-resistant and inorganic marker made detectable by VIS or NIR spectroscopy. The specially developed sensors make it possible to determine whether certain textile items actually originate from the supply chain of a selected supplier. Derived from this, the markings already serve two application examples: (1) the verification of the recycling rate in textiles and (2) the sorting process for large volumes.

Marking fibers are mixed into the textile material to demonstrate the recycling rate. The sensors can be used to check in real time whether a sufficiently high quota of recycled material has been
is contained (this succeeds by the size of the sum signal). Herzog also sees development potential for the future here. For example, he said, an AI solution is under development that will use three sensors to determine the composition of the textile fully automatically. 

The marking and sensor technology is also suitable for large-volume and fast sorting of homogeneous material streams. Herzog illustrated this using the example of silicone cartridges coated in a UV screen printing process. Through the applied coating, the NIR sensors should detect these cartridges that they are sorted out. The sorted-out cartridges can then be taken to a company that can recycle the silicone residues. Duke
used this example to illustrate the high potential that this marking also represents for established companies on the market. In this application example, for example, the companies Evonik and Henkel are cooperating. 

Thank you for your participation in this event. We continue our CEAP series on the first  Thursday of April. On 07 April, we will present lectures on the electronics and batteries value chains from 15-17 hrs.

Until then, stay healthy, your Prosperkolleg team