Lounais-Suomen Jätehuolto Oy (LSJH) and Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) co-ordinate Telaketju, a group of projects and a network aiming to build an unforeseen recycling ecosystem for the collection, sorting and further processing of textiles in Finland. This network is made up of projects implemented by a wide range of Finnish companies, research organizations, municipal waste management companies, and textile sorters and processors.
The main goal of Telaketju is to promote the circular economy of textiles and better and more functional utilization of textile waste in Finland. In order to achieve this goal, we need to put more effort into collection, sorting and further processing as well as product development. Within this framework, LSJH is developing a hand-held textile scanner based on NIR-spectroscopy using technology, cloud services, and machine learning expertise provided by Spectral Engines. Spectral Engines’ main role in the Telaketju projects is to support quality sorting and verifying fibers.
LSJH’s circular economy specialist Sini Ilmonen1 and end-of-life textile expert Inka Mäkiö2 describe that building the Telaketju network and group of projects started with a benchmark trip to Europe, as two initial projects by LSJH, Turku University of Applied Sciences and VTT came to the conclusion that the value chain of used textiles needs stronger collaborations to move towards a complete circular economy of textiles. This observation then kick-started Telaketju, which has currently started its fifth project called Business from circular economy of textiles.
“LSJH is one of the forerunners of circular economy in Finland and works hard to prevent waste and provide counseling for better and safer sorting and handling of waste. On top of all this, LSJH advances the development of circular economy center Topinpuisto in Turku, Finland, and develops an eco-power plant that will be built in Salo”, Ilmonen describes.
Building a device for supporting manual sorting
The development of business models for circular economy is at the core of Telaketju as well.
“Recycling technologies alone are not enough: they also require development of strong infrastructures to support them. This is why all of Finland’s public waste management companies are collaborating on the Telaketju projects. Other participants include research facilities and companies that work in collecting, processing, and re-purposing the textiles. This multidisciplinary approach brings a lot of know-how from different areas to the mix.”
Spectral Engines got chosen as the provider of material analyzing technologies through trial and error.
“We tried and tested multiple technologies and noticed that IR-analytics is one of the best ways to recognize the fiber composition of recycled textiles. We tested the few different options that are available in the market and came to the conclusion that Spectral Engines’ technologies would be the best fit for manual sorting”, Mäkiö says. “We felt that Spectral Engines’ NIRONE Scanner is very easy to use and compact in size, which are both huge benefits in this kind of work. Their scanner doesn’t require a fixed measuring station or heavy computer softwares. We were looking for a device to support especially manual sorting and Spectral Engines’ material scanner fit this description well and can be developed into a final product.”
Good results in just a matter of seconds
The collaboration between LSJH and Spectral Engines in the Telaketju project began with a measurement campaign with textile samples from Lahti University of Applied Sciences. This part of the project collected the necessary training data for a machine learning classifier. The measurement campaign was done at LSJH’s premises using LabScan, an instrument consisting of a measurement computer, and eight NIRONE Devices provided by Spectral Engines.
During the initial measuring campaign, LSJH collected NIR spectra from textiles of 6 different categories; cotton, wool, viscose, polyamide, polyester, and polyester/cotton mix with the help of Spectral Engines’ material scanner. The overall classifier performance was good as it correctly classified 99.8% of the textiles. “We are at the beginning stages of using Spectral Engines’ technologies, but our expectations are already very high”, both Ilmonen and Mäkiö state.
Inka Mäkiö emphasizes the role of verifying textiles properly to guarantee material quality for correct re-purposing: “Post-consumer textiles are an extremely heterogenic bunch and include everything that can be made out of different fabrics, mainly clothing and textiles used at home. If the textile can be re-used as such, a shirt as a shirt and a curtain as a curtain, this is what should primarily be done. The next best option is to use the material to make something else, to re-purpose it. If the product is broken or too worn out, it can be recycled as a material and used to make new fibers. The last option should be to use the material as an energy source.”
A mutual goal brings great results
All in all, the future of Telaketju looks bright, as many organizations and businesses have received funding for researching the business models, impacts of product design, and new standards for recycling materials.
LSJH has now acquired funding for building a pilot refinery line and within a year, they’ll be able to use technology that will enable bigger and more efficient product development in the future. This will also mean pilot projects for the whole value chain, new products, and new business models as well as homogenous textile fibers for the use of product developers. Spectral Engines’ technologies will be in a key role in these developments.
“One of the greatest things in Telaketju has been the openness and trust between the companies, organizations, and everyone involved. It’s been awesome to see that we all have a mutual goal, and we’re trying to achieve it as a team”, the experts conclude.
1Sini Ilmonen is a circular economy end-of-life textile expert at LSJH and manages projects that have received external funding. She has been a part of Telaketju since the beginning working as a project manager and has built necessary networks in all of the five Telaketju projects.
2Inka Mäkiö works as an end-of-life textile expert at LSJH and as a service designer at Turku University of Applied Sciences. She works in the development department of sorting and collecting with a textile team. As a service designer, she works in different projects for circular economy, such as the Telaketju project.