CircularityNews & UpdatesRecycling

Eeden develops a new process to recover cotton & polyester from its blend

Every year, millions of tonnes of textile waste are generated, only a fraction of the used textiles are recycled into new fibers, and even less are made from recycled materials. According to EcoWatch, roughly 39,000 tons of unwanted clothing are delivered to the Atacama Desert each year, where they cover the dunes and pose considerable environmental issues. Less than 1% of worn textiles globally are recycled into new textile fibers.

This linear system of production and consumption is unsustainable and harmful for the environment and human health. But, a new technology is emerging that could change the game for textile recycling. A German startup called ‘Eeden’ has developed a novel chemical process that can recover both cotton and polyester from cotton-PET blends, which are widely used in modern clothing. The recovered materials can then be spun into new, high-quality fibers that can be used for various applications.

The story behind the innovation

To allow fashion firms to produce circular clothes of the same quality as virgin garments, Eeden is doing something thinking about textiles land fillings, and wastages. Reiner Mantsch, co-founder and technological head, came up with the concept to create Eeden while studying textile technology at the Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences in Krefeld, Germany. However, what began as a student initiative at the Hochschule Niederrhein, which is well-known for its textile department, has received substantial notice only four years later.

According to Steffen Gerlach, co-founder and business lead at Eeden, Reiner was astonished as to why so many chemical recycling companies could only recover one type of material, which appeared to be greenwashing.

That is why Eeden is applying its chemical recycling method to cotton-PET mixtures. In June and November 2022, the business closed early fundraising rounds totaling seven figures. Investors included TechVision Fund, a regional fund that invests in technology businesses; High-Tech Gründerfonds, a German venture capital firm; Born2Grow, a future fund for tech and climate innovation; and an ex-manager from a packaging angel investor.

We see Eeden’s technology as a great opportunity for the industry and major fashion brands to become independent of scarce natural resources while solving the global used textile problem and already meeting future EU directives.

Already today we see great potential beyond the demand of the fashion industry.

– Andrea Muth, investment manager at Born2Grow

Dedicated focuses of the startup

Eeden is involved with the Circular Republic project, which offers a systemic perspective on transformation in the textiles industry with dedicated focuses on the various sections within textiles such as:

  • Designing circular textiles
  • Categorizing and separating textiles based on their composition, condition, and potential for reuse or recycling. 
  • Retrieval of used textiles from consumers and other sources,
  • Mechanical recycling, chemical recycling, and upcycling.

How do they do the engineering process?

Unlike other chemical recyclers, who can only salvage one fiber from blended fabrics like cotton-PET mashups, Eeden has discovered a means to efficiently separate the cotton from the PET, allowing both to be spun into like-new fibers. Eeden is not only establishing a solution for more than 70% of the EU’s worn textiles, but it also provides an opportunity for fashion companies to create recycled clothing that meets quality criteria.

Eeden prioritizes green chemistry. It recovers the biopolymer cellulose from cotton-rich textile waste and converts polyester into fundamental building blocks. Industrial partners then convert the materials into lyocell, viscose, and polyester. From there, businesses may make high-quality jeans, shirts, and other clothing out of these textiles.

There’s the opportunity [for plug-and-play] so we’re not engineering totally new machinery; we don’t want to create new process technology, we want to use technology so that some of the strategically fitting companies—like the fiber, chemical or paper industries—are able to use our technology in a licensing model.

Noting the need to “prove unit economics” and reach industrial scale.

– Steffen Gerlach, Founder & Business Lead, Eeden

Figure: Eeden’s products are designed to serve as drop-in solutions for today’s textile industry manufacturing processes Source: Yahoo Life

Eeden says that its technique is more ecologically friendly and cost-effective than traditional recycling methods. Chemical recycling consumes substantially less water, requires no arable land, eliminates pesticides, and turns textile waste into a resource. It also uses less chemicals and produces less byproducts like salt. Eeden made a point of developing technology that partners could readily incorporate into their existing manufacturing system.

How do they incentivize a circular economy?

The EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles seeks to develop a greener, more competitive sector that is more resilient to global shocks. The Commission’s 2030 goal for textiles is that all textile products placed on the EU market are durable, repairable, and recyclable, manufactured to a large extent of recycled fibers, free of harmful compounds, and produced by social rights and the environment.

Gerlach asserts that different industry stakeholders have different perspectives. “Some say the legislature is just an enabler; we’re already ahead of that. Others are like, ‘Let’s see where regulations go and what we have to do. Then, we’ll decide what to do at that point, but maybe not more than that, and not earlier than regulations.”

Eeden is currently developing its demonstration model with industrial cleaning firms. Large-scale commodities, such as bed sheets and tablecloths, are rented or leased to hotels and hospitals. Gerlach explained; “A good sized washing company washes about 30 to 50 tonnes of textiles daily, resulting in a few tonnes every month. They typically have to pay to dispose of the textiles once they are no longer repairable and become post-consumer waste.”

Global achievements of the startup:

In October 2023, Eeden won the Sustainable Impact Award from WirtschaftsWoche, a notable German business magazine. After one month, in November 2023, the startup received a 500,000-euro ($542,000) research budget from the German government.

“The Sustainable Impact Award 2023 was a great event for us to celebrate Eeden’s work for a more resource-efficient textile industry,” Julian Hertrampf, marketing and PR for Eeden, said. “We enjoyed the evening, made exciting contacts and can recommend participation to all impact startups.”

By the end of 2024, Eeden intends to close a Series A, create a pilot plant, launch a prototype textile, and work with textile collectors, fiber spinners, and fashion brands to acquire industry insights. The long-term strategy includes establishing facilities around the world that are suited to the demands of each market. “That’s another advantage of our technology,” Gerlach said, adding, “we can adjust to the different fiber proportions that will be seen in global markets.”

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