Chalmers research project

Chalmers-led research project on the verge of
break-through for workwear garment recycling

Durability is the one factor that impacts the sustainability of workwear the most. However, the longevity of workwear is achieved through combining different types of textiles and fibres. Therefore, it has hitherto not been possible to recycle workwear on a broader scale. As a consequence, Chalmers University of Technology has initiated a ground-breaking research project together with Blåkläder and several other companies to uncover the possibility of using a thermo-chemical technique to recycle workwear textiles, for the first time ever. 

Since November 2020, the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg has worked to solve a seemingly unsolvable problem in the entire textile industry. The reason is that even the most durable workwear on the market will become obsolete at some point, and today, only a few types of workwear can actually be recycled due to the complex design and mixes of textiles and fibres in each garment.

By employing thermo-chemical recycling, it is however possible to extract molecules from the workwear textiles instead of textile fibres. The small molecules can afterwards be used as recycled raw material that can form the basis of valuable commodity chemicals and materials, both in the shape of new textile fibres or other materials typically produced from fossil origin.

Blåkläder manufactures durable workwear in own factories, designed for long-term use. It has always been the focus for the company, and in the Chalmers-led research project, Blåkläder now sees huge potential in contributing to even more sustainability in the workwear industry.  

- Blåkläder manufactures some of the most durable workwear on the market, but the clothes will eventually end up being worn out after frequent use. To enable a long lifecycle, our workwear is typically manufactured in a complex manner using many different textiles, making it very difficult to recycle our products. However, together with Chalmers and the other companies involved in the research project, we see great potential to finally reach a technological solution that makes it possible to recycle complex textiles, says Anders Carlsson, managing director Blåkläder. 


Through Blåkläder’s participates in the Chalmers research project, the Swedish Spendrups Brewery, a long-standing customer of Blåkläder, contribute by donating used Blåkläder workwear:
- We are very excited about being part of the project by contributing with worn-out workwear from our brewery. Internally, we too focus a lot on sustainability, but this has a new dimension. We hope that the project will result in a better and more circular way of using our worn-out workwear, comments Anna Lidström, Head of Sustainability at Spendrups Brewery.

The research project will examine how textiles consisting of multiple types of textiles and fibre blends that cannot be recycled with established techniques, in fact, could be processed through thermo-chemical recycling, explains sustainability manager at Blåkläder, Ann Carlsson:
- The upcoming manufacturer's responsibility for textile waste is well-founded, and all brands need to act all the way responsibly through the value chain. However, without a large-scale solution for recycling mixed-fibre materials and post-consumer textiles with unknown contents, we almost risk creating a problem by putting a stop to the incineration of textile waste, she says. Therefore, at Blåkläder we see the research project with Chalmers as a great way of utilizing thermo-chemical techniques to resolve the recycling dilemma of the large waste streams of workwear in the industry, she comments.



- Existing textile recycling techniques are niched and aim at relatively narrow waste streams with specific characteristics – the Chalmers project, on the other hand, is broad and applicable to all textile waste.
- Thermo-chemical recycling is a viable solution for the large textile waste streams of mixed fibres and post-consumer materials with undefined contents.
- The technique is already here – therefore, the project bears great potential for a scaled-up application to meet the need.
- The recycled substances can be used in new production. This replaces, for example, the consumption of raw materials of fossil origin.

For further information, please contact:
Ann Carlsson, Sustainability Manager