In which sector are you active with your startup EEDEN?
Reiner: We are active in the textile industry. We are working on a chemical recycling process so that textile waste and used textiles can be processed into new fibres. In this process, new fibres are produced with the quality of cotton. The new material can then be used to make clothing or other textiles.Steffen: The textile industry produces more than 100 million tonnes of new fibres per year and less than 1% of this is kept in a closed cycle. A large proportion is burned without further use. We are faced with the great challenge of making the textile industry more sustainable. Our recycling process can make the textile value chain shorter and more transparent again.
Which old textiles do you work with?
Reiner: It is important for us to experiment with a wide range of raw materials and to investigate which raw materials are particularly suitable for the recycling process. These raw materials are found throughout the textile value chain. This also applies to post-consumer textiles such as old bed sheets or T-shirts.
Is the composition of the textile important for the recycling process?
Reiner: The composition is a major challenge. The mix of polyester and cotton dominates the market and that makes recycling difficult. For now, we work with materials that are less difficult to recycle.
Steffen: That is mainly a task for innovative sorting technology. For example, we spoke to the ‘Volksverein’ in Mönchengladbach. They collect old textiles and have the problem that they can no longer sell the textiles as before, because the quality of the materials is getting worse and worse. In the future, it would be worthwhile for the ‘Volksvereins’ to differentiate themselves in their sorting processes. So not only check whether a garment is still wearable, but also whether textiles are made of 100% cotton and are therefore recyclable.
What is the role of sustainability in the fashion industry?
Reiner: The subject of recycling and the circular economy currently plays an insufficient role in product development in the fashion industry. If the fashion industry were to produce more textiles made from 100% of a textile fibre, recycling would be much easier. But that requires political lobbying. Associations need to be tackled and existing ways of thinking need to be broken. In conversations with textile manufacturers, we are trying to raise awareness of the circular economy.
Steffen: On the other hand, companies have disposal costs for their textile production waste. There is an interest in passing on textiles to companies. In addition, there is social pressure on the textile industry to make its production cleaner, fairer and more sustainable.
What is the consumer’s role in this?
Reiner: When it comes to textiles, price is still the decisive factor for a large proportion of consumers. But there is a shift happening. The customer segment that pays attention to more sustainability is growing steadily. This is also reflected in the textile industry.
Where do you want to be in two years’ time?
Steffen: Ideally, we manage the recycling process and build up production capacity. We want to be able to process larger quantities of certain materials within two years. The goal for next year is to secure the financing of the pilot.
You are college friends. Starting a business as friends, is that possible? What do you do to keep the friendship alive?
Steffen: We have spoken openly about everything from the start and have gained the experience during our joint trips that we get along well 24/7. We know that we can resolve disagreements objectively and without dispute.
Reiner: We have very different skills and learn a lot from each other. I learned a lot from Steffen about economic principles and analysis. On the other hand, I like to work scientifically and technically. This combination works well together.
How do you experience Mönchengladbach and the region?
Reiner: It quickly became clear to us that Mönchengladbach was the right place; as I am still studying here, the support from the professors of the Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences is good and the laboratories are available to us. In addition, we have won the startup package from the city of Mönchengladbach. This is a package with mobility, housing and networking. The network in the textile sector is excellent in and around Mönchengladbach.
Steffen: in the beginning, locals often asked why I voluntarily moved from Hamburg to Mönchengladbach, which is interesting. In the context of our project, I have only experienced positive things here. Many doors have been opened for us here and we have met many people who want to promote this region. From the Stadtsparkasse to the Economic Development Agency and the Next MG – as founders, we were guided very personally everywhere. This dynamic gives me the feeling of being in exactly the right spot with our project.
Does the proximity of the Dutch border matter to you?
Reiner: The Netherlands leads the way in textile recycling and many other innovations. In the long term, proximity is an advantage for us, because innovations in textile sorting take place in the Dutch part of the border region. We benefit from the innovative potential of Dutch companies. We have already exchanged ideas with Dutch companies.
What kind of employees and trainees are you looking for?
Steffen: Young, motivated chemists are certainly of interest to us. In general, we like to work with people who are highly motivated, can work in a structured way and think along with us.