Step by step towards recyclability


Step by step towards recyclability

Textiles Partnership project "Circular Product Clones II" presents further recommendations on product design

As part of the second phase of the Product Clones project of the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles, the Research Institute for Textiles and Clothing (FTB) of the Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences (HSNR) has once again presented concrete recommendations for action for sustainable product design. Using the two product groups "quilted jacket" and "shirt" as examples, the project"Product Clone II" identified obstacles to the circularity and recyclability of products and presented more sustainable alternatives. Four member companies brought in their specific products for this, shared results of the analysis and worked together on solutions and processes. The project builds on the findings from the previous study "Product Clone I", which examined a large number of different products: from wedding dresses, bed linen, and workwear to trekking jackets and socks.

Design solutions in line with the EU Ecodesign Directive

The project aimed at sustainable design solutions that are in line with the future requirements of the EU Ecodesign Directive and at the same time take into account the fundamental conflict between durability and recyclability of textiles. This is where several conflicting goals lie dormant: for example, a larger proportion of recycled fibres in the product often shortens the useful life. Functionalising textiles extends their service life but makes their fibre-to-fibre recycling more difficult. A timeless design for longer usability conflicts with the desire for seasonal and fashionable design.

Conflicting goals? Successive product generations could be the solution

In order to mitigate these conflicting goals, the Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences recommends that the requirements of the EU Ecodesign Directive could be implemented step by step in three to five successive product generations: In case of the shirt product group, for example, the durability of a textile should first be in the foreground in the first generation, then its recycled content should be increased in the second generation, and finally the recyclability should be expanded in the third generation.

Repairability and modular design

For the quilted jacket product category, durability has been identified as a key feature, therefore reparability is considered a crucial intermediate step. For zips in particular, for example, various starting points are identified that concern material, production and the use of standard sizes for better and cheaper replaceability. However, potentials also arise in the jacket category through a modular construction: a variable design - for example through reversible jackets, removable inner jackets, or detachable sleeves - increases the range of the use of the jacket and at the same time can provide impulses for the conflict of objectives between a durable timeless design and short-term fashion trends.

Fit for future processes

Other advantages would include modified cutting patterns with fewer parts, manufacturing techniques that replace the use of elastane for cuffs or the use of secondary raw materials such as coloured polyester from post-consumer waste instead of PET bottles. Readable QR codes make it possible to scan and recognise the material composition, facilitate subsequent separation. This information could also be made available to end consumers as a digital product passport. The use of mono-materials and self-dissolving yarns also lays the foundation for future recycling processes, which are currently still in the pilot stage and therefore not yet available.

The project team concludes: At least five criteria of the future EU Ecodesign Directive are dedicated to circular economy. Early discussion and preparation for the innovations that the EU Textile Strategy will bring is crucial for the European textile and clothing industry. The challenges and conflicting goals can best be overcome if companies work together to find solutions. Exchange and cooperation between brands are crucial here. At the same time, they can benefit from the use of secondary materials, joint procurement of larger quantities of materials and shared logistics. 

The analyses were conducted under the direction of Prof. Dr. Maike Rabe, Prof. Dipl. Ellen Bendt and Benita Rau from the Research Institute for Textiles and Clothing (FTB) at Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences (HSNR); the companies Blutsgeschwister, Hakro, Seidensticker and S.Oliver contributed their products. In exchange with the companies, a team of students at HSNR worked out solutions for the aspects raised in the analysis and checked the plausibility of the design changes. Involved were: Berat Arici, Nadine Bullerdiek, Sakshi Chaudhary, Pauline Jetter, Malina Lumpp, Jana Oldenburg, Rosalie Schilling, Tamara Theilmann, Yifan Yang.