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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Fairtrade Foundation, Finnish Researchers Push for Alternative Textiles

Just in time for Fashion Revolution Week, the Fairtrade Foundation and researchers in Finland have revealed new studies and initiatives aimed at driving the fashion industry towards a more sustainable, ethical model.

Just in time for Fashion Revolution Week, the Fairtrade Foundation and researchers in Finland have revealed new studies and initiatives aimed at driving the fashion industry towards a more sustainable, ethical model.

New research by the Fairtrade Foundation aims to provide fashion brands with a useful new tool to enhance visibility of their cotton sourcing and deepen understanding of their social and environmental responsibilities. The charity said that apparel brands that rely on cotton now have a real opportunity to make informed strategic decisions that will help create a more resilient business and be more accountable for their environmental and social impacts.

The study used a robust methodology which measured the environmental and social impacts on rural households in India, one of the world’s largest producers of cotton.

The valuation tool translates environmental and social values into the language of business and economics, converting impacts and dependencies into costs and benefits expressed in monetary terms. With an overall indication of cost and benefit, companies can identify trade-offs and synergies in a systematic way.

The study found that the combined social and environmental costs of Fairtrade cotton farming are five times lower than that of conventional cotton farming. The impacts of Fairtrade farming methods were 97 percent lower for the social elements and 31 percent lower for environmental components studied.

The most significant social advantage for Fairtrade farmers was having more income. The research compared community benefits from Fairtrade Premiums, fair wages, income for farmers, engagement of unacceptable labour practices, such as child labour and social cost of overtime. It revealed that Fairtrade cotton farmers tend to have lower social costs, and higher social benefits such as fairer wages and investment in local schools.

Fairtrade cotton also performed better than conventional for all environmental KPIs cotton. Areas surveyed included land use, water pollutants, water use, GHG emissions and soil pollutants. However, costs were on the high side as a result of yield of organic cotton per acre being lower than conventional.

“Cotton is an integral part of our lives, from the sheets on our beds to the identity we project through the clothes we wear. Not only that, but cotton also provides livelihoods for millions across the globe,” said Subindu Garkhel, Cotton Manager for the Fairtrade Foundation.

“But there is a strong cost for people and planet with cultivating the cotton that goes into our clothes and our study shows that is markedly higher for conventional cotton farming. This research illustrates how Fairtrade empowers farmers to decide their own future, is better for their communities and has a substantially lower footprint than conventional cotton.”

Meanwhile, the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland and Aalto University are transforming wood fibers and discarded cotton textiles into viscose-like fibers to be used as raw materials for new textile products through their joint TeKiDe project.

The project – which is funded by the Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council Structural Fund for Mainland Finanland program, the city of Espoo, VTT and Aalto University — aims to scale BioCelSol, Carbamate and Ioncell-F technologies, both of which offer a more sustainable and safer method for producing viscose through the use of carbon disulphide.

The Ioncell-F technology, which was developed by Aalto University in collaboration with the University of Helsinki, is based on direct dissolution of cellulose. The process uses a dry-jet wet spinning technique that give excellent tenacity to fibers. Researches are currently working to develop a recovery system that would enable closed water and chemical loops in the process. The project will select equipment suited for the process and examine in which respects equipment used for other technologies developed during the project could be used for the piloting of the Ioncell-F

In the first trial for carbamate, approximately 150 kg of cellulose carbamate fiber will be produced from recycled cotton using carbamate technology owned by VTT. Dissolution of cellulose is enhanced by forming carbamate groups in cellulose chains with the help of urea. The cellulose carbamate thus formed dissolves in cold sodium zincate solution, which is regenerated into carbamate fibee by precipitating the solution in acid.

Another potential technology to be demonstrated is BioCelSol, which is jointly owned by VTT and the Tampere University of Technology. In BioCelSol technology, the dissolution of cellulose is enhanced by means of mechanical and enzymatic treatments before dissolution in sodium zincate. The trials using BioCelSol technology have not been confirmed yet.

The test runs will be performed at VTT’s Bioruukki piloting center in Espoo, where a piloting environment based on wet spinning technique have been built. A single piloting process includes several steps: collection of waste textiles; removal of mechanical parts, such as buttons and zippers; grinding of textiles; chemical pre-treatment; cellulose modification; dissolution in sodium zincate; filtering of the solution; air removal; spinning; post-processing of the fiber and drying.

The TeKiDe project kicked off last autumn and will be completed by the end of 2018.