Endless recycling: is it possible?

During the last Re-think in Milan, Kirsi Terho, Key Account Director of Infinited Fiber, spoke. Infinited fiber is an innovative startup from the perspective of developing new infinitely recyclable materials so that the textile industry is more sustainable. This is called endless recycling.

She says that in the textile industry, the time for using virgin fibers is over. Infinited Fiber makes this possible with its technology. They are a technology company that is turning old clothes into a new textile fiber. They take trashed clothes and make them into a new textile fiber called Infinna, that can be turned into yarns. The technology uses cellulose in the waste as its raw material to create the new fiber. It’s a unique technology that they are using at their pilot factories in Finland. Infinited Fiber was founded in 2016. Technology has been around a lot longer. It has been studied at the Technical Research Centre of Finland, VTT, and Infinited Fiber Company was spun off to commercialize the technology. It’s a patented technology that allows textile fibers’ regeneration – or rebirth. The dream is to stop waste from being wasted and to make textile circularity a reality by capturing the resources in the waste and giving them new value as new fibers.

Infinited Fiber collaborates with several of the world’s leading fashion and apparel companies, like H&M Group, Patagonia, and Adidas, which have also made big commitments through investing in the company or signing multi-year purchasing deals, or both. Climate change is real as we all know, and these brands know it too. They are paying attention to sustainable sourcing, and they have made public pledges to shift to products made from recycled materials. To make good on these promises, they need innovations that enable high-quality textile-to-textile recycling, and Infinited Fiber is offering one such solution. Of course, when you think about these new technologies that are arising, there is always the question of how well it’s going to work. And Infinited Fiber has proven that their technology does work: together with some of the big brands, they have already launched some garments to the market, and, to make it believable for us too, Kirsi shows a video to give us a glimpse behind the scenes.

In the video, they say we cannot continue the textile industry as usual, it’s the second biggest industry. It’s considered one of the most polluting ones and at the same time, it’s still a one-way ticket because there is no recycling. Recycling is a must for this industry to continue, and Infinited Fiber technology has a vital position. Born from the VTT research center, Infinited is trying to achieve a goal where your clothes can be recycled infinitely. The feedstock that they’re using now is post-consumer textile waste coming from the textile collection campaigns that are being done in Finland. They transform the cellulose separated from the cotton-rich textile waste. Their technology is organic solvent-free and uses water-based processes. In traditional viscous manufacturing, carbon disulfide is used, and it’s considered a toxic nerve poison.

They have replaced carbon disulfide with urea, which is a natural biomolecule. At this stage, the shredded textiles still have all the elastane, polyester, colors, and anything else that might be existing in the old textile. Material is being processed to remove the polyfibers from the stream. Washing sequences remove any remaining impurities, as well as traces of the alkaline liquor. At this stage, they have mainly cellulosic parts of the material left. This pilot factory is their gem, and it’s here that they have the core of their process, this is where the magic lives. At Infinited Fiber Company the process is quite robust. For example, they can handle the elastine impurities. The created cellulose carbamate fiber (Infinna) is unique because its benefits include that it takes up the color very easily, which means that its footprint from dying is very low. The other thing is that it’s also user-friendly, and of course, it’s a vital part of the future of the textile industry because we have to go for recycling. In the wet spinning process, they regenerate fibers from the cellulose liquid.

This part of the process is well-known in the viscous industry, and that’s why this technology can be easily retrofitted to existing viscose mills. In this liquid, your old jeans and t-shirts have forgotten their history, and they’re ready to be reborn. As the cellulose liquid touches the acid, neutralization happens, and the cellulose crystallizes into new fibers. So, from every tiny hole comes a new fiber. The next step is the scale-up. 

It might sound like it has a lot of chemicals and lots of water, but it’s a process where they are saving water if we compare, for example, to cotton. Infinna also shows that just because a textile fiber is recycled, it doesn’t really need to have poor quality. It comes from a good place, it’s made 100% from post-consumer textile waste materials, it’s soft, it’s natural. It’s a true alternative to cotton, it’s biodegradable with no microplastics, only natural ingredients are used, and if you can look at what Infinna is, it’s a totally new type of fiber. It’s not viscose, it’s not cotton, it’s cellulose carbamate.  They have been doing some launches, for example, with Wrangler last year. Wrangler released some jeans for sale, and for Infinited it is interesting to see how the market reacted and to see the consumer reaction and get the feedback. And the feedback has been very good. There are several more commercial launches coming in the next upcoming months. The recycled or regenerated Infinna fiber can be used for a wide spectrum of different fabrics, and they have already created woven, knitwear, jerseys etc. So they have shown that it is applicable in several different applications and it can become a mainstream material. To become mainstream, they need scale. Now, they operate pilot factories in Finland.

They are producing as fast as they can, but they can’t really provide enough for the textile industry at the moment. So, they are now preparing to build a new, commercial-scale factory in Finland. It’s going to be operational in 2024 and has a capacity of 30 thousand tonnes/annum (equivalent to the fiber needed to produce 100 million t-shirts). The technology is ready to scale and that is going to be the commercial factory. 30 thousand tonnes/annually is not enough to meet the global need for regenerated fiber. According to Kirsi, we need a massive amount of those factories to really get to the point when every single cloth can be recycled, which is why they are also licensing their technology to other fiber producers.

Here’s the entire speech on our Youtube channel:

Francesco Castellano

Francesco Castellano holds a Master degree in Business Administration, and he has gathered almost twenty years of experience in research, finance, consulting, and business management. During this time, he was engaged in different types of projects as a consultant at Bain & Company, launched Uber operations in Turin, and worked in the FP&A department at General Electric.Lately, he founded To... Read more

Francesco Castellano holds a Master degree in Business Administration, and he has gathered almost twenty years of experience in research, finance, consulting, and business management. During this time, he was engaged in different types of projects as a consultant at Bain & Company, launched Uber operations in Turin, and worked in the FP&A department at General Electric.

Lately, he founded Tondo, a cluster of organizations focusing on spreading Circular Economy approaches and concepts, and supporting companies in the transition to a clean and circular future. Francesco is also the ideator and coordinator of the Re-think Circular Economy Forum, a format of events organized in many different locations in Italy showcasing the most relevant Circular Economy solutions.

Francesco has been a guest speaker at different universities and events, like Federico II University, Bocconi University, LIUC - Cattaneo University, Pavia University, Padua University, Catholic University, IPE Business School, 24ORE Business School, Campus Party, Torino Stratosferica, Visionary Days.

Francesco is passionate about Circular Economy, Cleantech Innovations, Venture Building and Entrepreneurship.