A fashionable solution for polyester recycling

“Every year, our companies distribute products which consist of more than 1,000 tonnes of polyester, a fossil-based material. After these polyester products are worn out, they are often disposed of in landfill or burnt for energy recovery. We asked ourselves: ‘Could there be a better way?’”

Lena Ekbom, Head of Sustainability at Axel Johnson International, says the group’s long-term strategy emphasis on using resources in an efficient and responsible way, as well as working with partners to find novel solutions for the future.

The story began when Axel Johnson International identified polyester in lifting slings and lashings for cargo securing distributed across Europe, as a wasted resource. The group started investigating if it could be recycled rather than incinerated or sent to landfill at end of life.

Filippa K, a top fashion brand also part of the Axel Johnson Group, had meanwhile been looking for more sustainable alternatives to both virgin polyester and the used PET bottles that are the main source of recycled polyester in the fashion industry today.

Collaborating across industries

The starting point of this project was when Axel Johnson International initiated talking to Filippa K about the polyester challenge. They teamed up with Axfoundation, a non-profit organisation close to the Axel Johnson Group, to discuss ways to tackle the polyester waste challenge. Together they set up a pilot project to recycle discarded industrial polyester and use it to produce new pellets which will turn into to new polyester products in the fashion industry.

“Our partnership with Axfoundation and Filippa K to recycle polyester is a great example of using innovation to explore new ways towards more circular systems and improve resource efficiency while also developing our businesses,” Lena says.

“Most materials on the market is not made or designed to be recycled. That’s the big challenge. We’re looking to find a solution to that by taking waste from a product in one industry as a resource for a company in another industry,” explains Hanna Skoog, Program Director at Axfoundation.

Recycled and reused materials in the supply chain

For Filippa K, getting more recycled or reused materials into the supply chain is a strategic priority.

“We already have circularity as a strategy within our own products and production. Moving into a waste stream from a different industry is something we absolutely believe in. It fits with our values,” says Jodi Everding, Filippa K’s Fabric and Trim Manager.

In the near future, Filippa K aims to use polyester pellets produced from worn-out industrial products collected by Axel Johnson International’s companies.

“It’s pretty remarkable that worn-out lashings and slings from cargo securing and heavy industrial lifting can fill a purpose in the fashion industry. It just goes to show what you can achieve with a bit of imagination,” says Lena Ekbom at Axel Johnson International.

Next steps

As consumers become more aware of the future lack of virgin resources due to overconsumption, the demand for circular solutions and recycled materials will increase. Indeed, Axfoundation is considering contacting other fashion brands in Europe as they are usually using the same suppliers as Filippa K.

“If we can reach out to their common suppliers, we can be more transformative,” says Hanna Skoog.

For all the project partners, the ambition is to create an entire new ecosystem. By developing channels for recyclable waste from industrial users into the fashion industry and, ultimately into other sectors, the use of virgin polyester will be reduced.

“We have a long journey ahead of us to establish an efficient collection system and bring in more partners in this new polyester ecosystem,” says Lena Ekbom. “Only by working together can we make a change. You can’t do it alone.”

 

Do you have questions around the project? Please contact Lena Ekbom at lena.ekbom@axinter.com

It’s pretty remarkable that worn-out lashings and slings from cargo securing and heavy industrial lifting can fill a purpose in the fashion industry.

About Filippa K

Founded: In 1993 by Filippa Knutsson and Patrik Kihlborg

Headquarters: Stockholm

Employees: 350

Reach: 30 outlets in seven European markets, online sales to 60 countries

Visit Filippa K

About Axfoundation

Founded: In 1993 as a non-profit organisation by Axel Johnson group owner Antonia Ax:son Johnson

Headquarters: Stockholm

Mission: To spur progress leading to sustainable action and transformative change

Approach: Acts as bridge between research community and practitioners in industry and commerce

Visit Axfoundation

About polyester

Material: Synthetic fibre derived from mixing glycol (derived from petroleum) and terephthalic acid. Often known as PET – polyethylene terephthalate

Use: Clothing, furnishings, textiles, industrial lifting and cargo securing equipment, etc.

Recycled polyester today originates 100% from used PET bottles