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D+C Vol.42.2015:2 33 yields per hectare of forests are up to four times higher than those of cotton, measured by kilo- grammes per year. Furthermore, trees can be culti- vated without artificial irrigation and pesticides. An innovative alternative fibre called “SeaCell” is made from algae. The manufacturing process is the same as for lyocell. SeaCell starts out as brown algae that are harvested from the fjords of Iceland. The al- gae are dried and crushed into a powder, which is combined with the base fibre lyocell for spinning. The makers of SeaCell claim that it has health ben- efits since fibres are protected from environmental toxins due to high concentrations of minerals, trace elements and antioxidants. The clothing industry has a lot of hope riding on improved regenerated fibres. Thanks to their wear­ ability, these fibres are also becoming increasingly popular with consumers. Clothing made from milk or coffee grounds There is another trend in textile research: new fibres made from by-products and waste of the food indus- try. Qmilch is a very successful example. The com- pany makes fibres from milk that is unfit for human consumption because it does not meet hygiene and quality requirements. Around 2 million tons of milk are discarded every year in Germany alone. After al- most two years of research in cooperation with the Bremen Fibre Institute, Qmilch has become the first company to produce milk-based fibres without add- ed chemicals and with minimal water consumption. The process is not only environmentally friendly, it is efficient and makes sense in business terms. S.Cafe fibres are the result of a similar idea. The Taiwanese textile firm Singtex Industrial produces them. It collects used coffee grounds, which are re- duced to microscopic particles and then combined with a polyester fibre made from recycled plastic bottles. Other innovative fibres are being made from the waste products of the soy, tobacco and citrus in- dustries, though not all are ready for the market yet. Fibre recycling is probably the most important and most promising innovation in the textile indus- try. In 2013, some 54.4 million tons of synthetic fi- bres were produced around the world. Five to eight percent of the world’s extracted crude oil is used by the textile industry: the largest share serves to make polyester fibres (44.7 million tons), followed by poly­amide fibres and acrylic fibres (4.2 and 3 million tons respectively). This kind of fibre industry is en- ergy intensive and requires a lot of chemicals. It is particularly problematic that synthetic textiles are not biodegradable, so they do not decompose in the natural environment. The downside of recycling Civil-society groups and clothing companies want to collect rubbish consisting of synthetic materials in or- der to recycle it into new products. Successful exam- ples include Econyl fibres, which are manufactured from old fishing nets, and Bionic fibres, which incor- porate recycled PET from plastic rubbish found on In- donesia’s beaches. In most cases, recycled polyester (rPET) is obtained from PET bottles. The bottles are washed, shredded, melted and spun into new fibres. They are used to make fabrics like fleece and function- al fabrics. Although the life cycle assessment of recy- cled PET fibres is much better than that of traditional fibres, the quality of the material is reduced in every recycling process. People thus also speak of “down- cycling”. Ultimately, the fibres end up in landfills. Unfortunately, the same is true of recycled natural fibres. More and more clothing companies are accept- ing donations of used clothing in their shops in order to bring valuable raw materials back into the system. However, there are no suitable or sufficiently practical production methods in place so far to produce recycled fibres that might replace cotton for mass markets. References: Böller, C., 2010: Design in balance – Ansätze zur Nachhaltigkeit im Modedesign. Verlag Dr. Müller. Made-BY, 2013: Environmental benchmark for fibres. Textile Exchange, 2014: Life cycle assessment (LCA) of organic cotton – a global average. Chahboune Marina Chahboune is a corporate-responsibility manager at Hessnatur, a German manufacturer of natural textiles. She is also a freelance CSR consultant and blogs at: [email protected] Brown algae, which are harvested in the fjords of Iceland, serve as a raw ­material for alterna- tive fibres that may someday ­replace cotton.