Keeping resources in the recycling loop as long as possible and with as little loss as possible - that is the goal of the recycling management that CWS wants to achieve in the individual divisions. Also in the Workwear division. That is why the decision was made to join the industrial partnership wear2wear™ in 2019, reports Ricarda Hefke, Lead Buyer Textiles and wear2wear™ project manager at CWS: "Like us, the industrial partnership is also pursuing the concept of recycling management: used textiles are to be turned into new textiles that meet the high quality standards for the rental business. For us, this is an approach to keep the accumulating old textiles, which were previously managed in open-loop recycling and processed into cleaning cloths or insulating material, for example, in the rental cycle for workwear in future.".
In order to achieve the desired properties and durability, work jackets and trousers as well as other textiles are usually made of blended fabrics that are difficult to recycle. In addition, the textiles have other components such as zips, piping, transfer prints, buttons, interlinings etc., which are made of a wide variety of material mixtures. In terms of recycling, this means that every single component of the workwear must be recycled back into its original material.
This process is very complex. Nevertheless, CWS sees a great opportunity here: "As a supplier of rented textiles, we have a high degree of control over product design and our end-of-life processes and thus the best starting conditions for scaling up textile recycling. We are working at all levels and in all areas to implement recycling management as far as possible at CWS, says Jakob Tobias Steffen, Jr. Manager Corporate Responsibility. "wear2wear™ is in my opinion the right approach, where design and end-of-life processes are considered together. Thanks to the industrial partnership, we have experienced partners at our side with whom we can develop recyclable products, and with whom we can reprocess and recycle the materials accordingly at the end of their useful life".
Main member of wear2wear™
Since 2019, CWS has been main member of the industry partnership and as such is actively involved in the project. As a pilot project within the wear2wear™ initiative, the company centrally collects the rented textiles that are at the end of their product life cycle and separates non-recyclable elements such as zips from the clothing. The remaining materials are then shredded in the wear2wear™ process and reprocessed into fabric. This process allows, among other things, polyester fibres to be kept circulating continuously.
However, this process is only suitable for 100 percent polyester fabrics - rather the exception at CWS. For this reason, CWS is currently working on the possibility to chemically recycle blended fabrics. In this process, the different fibres are also separated from each other. However, until this challenge is tackled, the team is concentrating on mechanical recycling for the time being, because there were and still are a number of challenges here as well: "The recyclates we obtained were not promising at first, we had too much waste. By optimising the recyclate composition, we can achieve the high and consistent quality of the wear2wear™ textiles," says Hefke.
First outdoor jacket realised
Despite all the challenges, CWS has realised the outdoor jacket rEvolution Hybrid together with partner companies from the industrial alliance, which was developed according to the Design2 Recycle guidelines. It is one of the first garments in the world to pass completely through the textile recycling cycle: It is made from old clothes and recycled PET, which can be fully recycled again at the end of the product's life.
The project is also attracting more and more attention externally: wear2wear™ was one of 28 projects nominated by an interdisciplinary jury for the Federal Ecodesign 2020 Award. This prize is concerned with the aesthetic and sustainable design of concepts, products and services. With this prize, the Federal Environment Ministry, the Federal Environment Agency and the International Design Centre in Berlin aim to promote environmentally friendly changes in development and production as well as in consumer behaviour.
The award ceremony for this year's Ecodesign Award will take place on 30 November.