IKEA develops new range from recycled uniforms

Swedish home furnishings company demonstrates circular story with creation of VÄXELBRUK product line, recycling over 300 tonnes of uniforms in the first phase of the project.

IKEA has announced a pilot project, recovering and remanufacturing staff uniforms for a new range of textile products to be sold in selected stores from February.

IKEA Recycling of Uniforms
The VÄXELBRUK project began as IKEA overhauled its staff uniforms between 2020 and 2022, simultaneously collecting old uniforms from its stores across Europe. These were then shredded and blended with other fibres to develop a material that met requirements in terms of quality and aesthetics. This blend included recycled polyester derived from used PET bottles and pre-consumer textile waste. In addition, the project incorporated faulty new staff clothing into its production.

The company states that as well as enabling it to tackle a waste stream, the project process has enabled it to gain further knowledge about how to incorporate recycling practices into its operations.

Luca Clerici, Business and Innovation Deployment Leader at IKEA, explains the process: “The fabric is shredded to make fibres, naturally making them much shorter than virgin fibres. This means they have lower mechanical performance, but the performance in every other aspect is just as good as virgin material.

“For example, if you make a fabric that’s used for an office chair, the requirements for good quality are quite demanding of mechanical performance in particular, because of the high usage and friction. With, say, a curtain the requirements are different. The stress on the product comes from other things, like light, for which we can ensure the same good quality with these fibres as well.

“It was basically the first time we managed and repurposed our own potential waste within IKEA at this scale, so we had to learn to navigate quite a complex landscape in terms of requirements, legislation, and logistics. How to move the material, working with the right carriers with special licences to receive and manage them. We studied all of these things very closely.”

Lena Julle, Sustainability Manager for IKEA, highlighted the project's significance to the business: “Through the VÄXELBRUK pilot project, IKEA aimed to test and learn how to turn textile waste into secondary raw materials for new products. The VÄXELBRUK project is an example of entrepreneurship that challenges current practices and develops ways of working for recycling.”

Clerici added: “For IKEA, the VÄXELBRUK project was an opportunity for a thorough exploration of recycling processes. We had to learn to navigate quite a complex landscape in terms of requirements, legislation, and logistics. The project brought a lot of cross-disciplinary learnings, not only about textiles. We’re sharing these insights across IKEA to use in everything from the supply chain to product development and design.”

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