Millions of tonnes of T-shirts and dresses are dumped or burned every year. Turning old clothes into new ones is possible – the question is whether it is a realistic solution
The sun is always shining in the Swedish seaside town of Sundsvall, according to the staff of Renewcell, the world’s first commercial-scale textile-to-textile recycling factory.
Renewcell’s enormous warehouse opened last year. It sits on the water’s edge, with easy access for the ships that deliver 400kg bales of shredded cotton and denim from textile waste sorters in Germany, Switzerland and Sweden. Inside the warehouse, the large rectangular bales are stacked in colossal fabric pyramids, each exploding with ribbons of navy blue and black fabric. The towering piles weigh 500 tonnes. Every month, the plant can take 10 times that amount and turn it into a material called Circulose. Circulose looks and feels like chalky craft paper, but it can be used to make viscose rayon (usually made from wood pulp) and, in turn, new clothes.