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Futura, the paper of the circular economy

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Fedrigoni and Albini started the Futura project, an interesting initiative under the banner of circular economy that resulted in a new paper made of 25 percent fiber obtained from the Bergamo-based textile company’s waste and by-products. After the three tons of paper produced last year, a second production was rescheduled.

It is called Futura and is a new paper composed of as much as 25 percent fiber obtained from the waste and by-products of textile production. The two key players in this interesting work of research and collaboration are Fedrigoni and Albini. The former is a group that produces high value-added papers, while Albini, which has been led by the same family of the same name for 146 years, is Europe’s largest producer of shirting fabrics. And it is from the recovery of textile by-products that would be destined for disposal or down-cycling processes at this Bergamo-based company that Futura was born, after two years of work between Fedrigoni’s research and development team and that of Albini_Next (a division established in 2019 with the aim of seeking innovative solutions to create the fabrics of the future).

Futura’s production process

Futura’s production process begins with the selection of scraps from the weaving stages or in the sampling and quality control departments of the Bergamo-based textile company. The fabrics are frayed to be converted into fiber, which Fedrigoni later adds to the pulp mixture to make paper. Thanks to this innovative process, about three tons of paper have been produced to date, using 950 kilograms of fabric waste. In a perfect circular economy perspective, Albini Group then chose to use this special paper to make presentation media for the Denim collection and the Service Program of the Albiate 1830 brand (fabrics dedicated to luxury streetwear).

Futura told by Fedrigoni and Albini

«Futura – A revolutionary tradition» explains Micaela di Trana, vice president for marketing and research and development at Fedrigoni Paper, «is an up-cycling project, i.e., a recycling process that returns a final product of greater value than the starting waste, reducing waste of materials and making optimal use of energy and emissions, according to a circular economy practice that requires high technical skills, creativity and innovative abilities. Futura means a lot to me and to all the people who have been involved in this project since February 2020. The Albini Group-which was already our client and is distinguished by its drive for innovation, boasting the world’s first organic, traceable cotton-wondered how it could reuse its internal waste and whether there was a way to do so from an upcycling perspective. This question guided our collaboration, and after two years of research and experimentation, a new paper, composed partly of cellulose and partly of fabric waste from the cotton mill, came to life. Its realization presented several challenges, given the ambitious technical and aesthetic qualities of the final product we wanted to achieve. We deployed all our know-how in governing industrial paper processes, investing heavily in research and development and doing numerous tests.

In the Fabriano mills, in fact, we have been producing paper types composed also of cotton fibers for quite some time, usually pure cotton, the use of which makes the paper softer, more “woven,” but the project with Albini involved waste, mercerized cotton, which is very difficult to process with traditional industrial machinery. In addition, the intended product was a stiff paper-fabric, which posed an additional challenge. The making of Futura paper begins with the selection of scraps, which come from the weaving process or Albini’s sample and quality control department and are then frayed and pulverized. It is in this form that Fedrigoni adds cotton to the cellulose pulp, so as to make the cardboard used for the presentation supports of the Albini Group’s Denim collection and the Service Program of the Albiate 1830 brand.»

«These are textile scraps that we collect from our production sites» adds Giorgia Carissimi, head of Albini_Next, «and in particular from the sampling, quality control and weaving departments. The waste fabrics must be cotton, and for this first step there was no need to choose by color, only by fiber type. Fortunately, Albini Group produces mostly 100% cotton (or linen) fabrics, so we had no difficulty obtaining single-material scraps. Some bases contained small percentages of synthetic, but negligible and in any case suitable for the later stages of fraying and recycling. For the future, we plan to separate colored, patterned and printed fabrics from white ones, so that we can also obtain a white product, which to date we have not done.»

The future of Futura

 We asked Fedrigoni and Albini if the project, after the three tons of paper produced last year, will continue. «In September 2022» Di Trana explained, «the first three tons of product were ready, with repeatable qualities and specific mechanical characteristics, obtained by recovering 950 kg of fabric waste. The result was so satisfactory that a second production was immediately rescheduled, which will cover Albini Group’s needs for next year. Thanks to this collaboration we succeeded in a feat that seemed impossible, transforming weaving production waste into a new raw material. Futura is an example of how many possibilities of creation we have with our R&D division and our production sites, a successful project that will surely lead us to new possibilities, both with the use of fabric scraps and with other materials».

«At the moment» Carissimi concludes, «I can only say that we could also collect waste from our foreign production sites, but the feasibility would have to be evaluated with an LCA to calculate the Carbon Footprint. Our waste alone would not be enough for an industrial production of Fedrigoni, but we could perhaps build a supply chain by proposing the project to our customers as well.»