The challenge: Recycling mixed raw materials
Microfibers have a unique ability for cleaning thanks to the mixed composition of polyester, polyamide, and nylon. The composition makes it highly durable, with the ability to remove up to 99.9% bacteria from a surface, as well as being able to withstand a minimum of 500 washes.
But microfiber is also very challenging to sort and recycle due to the different materials being fused. Therefore, microfiber is often disposed of as residual waste when worn out, after which it is sent for incineration, which causes CO2 in the atmosphere.
New EU legislation
On January 1st , 2023, new EU regulations entered into force, meaning all textiles must be collected by 2025. However, the regulation does not cover products containing microfiber, as it has not previously been technically possible to recycle microfiber (source: MST).
The solution: New recycling system
In close collaboration with Nordisk Microfiber (NMF), ABENA has introduced a new recycling system for cloths and mops made from microfiber. The system is called TAKE BACK.
As the first company in the world, NMF has found a way to recycle microfiber to avoid the resources going up in smoke. To adapt the solution for the market, NMF contacted ABENA to develop a return system, as ABENA already supplies 88% of all Danish municipalities and, therefore, have the connections in place and can help coordinate the collection of cloths and mops in collaboration with the municipalities.
TAKE BACK aims to increase circularity by keeping cloths and mops within the circular economy cycle by turning them into new products. The more cloths and mops are collected and reused, the more virgin resources, waste, and CO2 can be saved. The ambition is, therefore, to collect 1,000 tons of microfiber products.
Follow the microfibers journey to recycling:
How the TAKE BACK system works:
ABENA supplies microfiber cloths and mops to the municipalities in Denmark.
Once the cloths and mops are worn out, they are placed in the TAKE BACK bags provided by ABENA.
When the bag is full, a QR code on the bag is scanned, which notifies ABENA that the bag is ready for pick-up.
The bag is picked up and brought to the NMF’s recycling facilities in Denmark.
Here, all cloths and mops are broken down in a textile mill, pressed, and tied into an industrial roll that can be used for suction, wiping, and covering in workshops, hospitals, and institutions. Industrial rolls are usually produced from paper, which is a natural resource. Therefore, the idea arose to replace the paper with recycled microfiber, which would still perform a high absorbent capacity.
The results: Increasing circularity and product lifetime
By turning the worn-out microfiber mops and cloths into industrial rolls, we see that the production of industrial rolls consume less CO2, water, and energy than the production of existing paper rolls. That is without reducing the absorption and drying capabilities.
GWP [Kg CO2 eg./kg]
Water consumption [L/kg]
Primary energy [MJ/kg]
Data for the CO2 emission expressed as GWP value (Global Warming Potential). The production of the industrial paper roll, whether in virgin or secondary (recycled) material, is based on the production of a paper napkin. Source: Teknologisk Institut
The project's ultimate goal is to one day recycle the microfibers into new microfiber cloths and mops; with this goal in mind, the industrial roll is just the first step on the journey.
The solution taps perfectly into ABENA's sustainable development, where we examine and rethink the life cycle of our products to reduce the environmental footprint. For microfiber cloths, ABENA first upgraded to Nordic Swan Ecolabeled cloths, then cloths made from recycled material – and with the new return system, the cloths can now be recycled after use.
The project has also brought additional benefits. As the TAKE BACK bags are filled at the municipalities, we gain valuable insight into the lifespan of our products.
It is essential to ABENA that our customers get the most out of our products and thus also that our Nordic Swan Ecolabeled cloths maintain their ability and durability for a minimum of 500 washes. We also offer advice on better workflows, washing, and optimal use for less consumption.