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H&M develops new recycling method for textile blends

Together with The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA), the H&M Foundation has developed a new method for recycling blend textiles into new fabrics, thus paving the way for a more circular economy.

Using only heat, less than 5 percent biodegradable green chemical and water, the new innovative solution is using a hydrothermal (chemical) fiber-to-fiber recycling process to self-separate cottons and polyester. The resulting polyester is usable without any quality loss, thus giving fibers a second life and saving apparel companies huge costs. H&M as well as HKRITA plan to make the new technology available to the global fashion industry so that a closed loop for textiles can be targeted worldwide.

“For too long, the fashion industry has not been able to properly recycle its products, since there’s no commercially viable separation, sorting and recycling technology available for the most popular materials such as cotton and polyester blends,” said Eric Bang, innovation lead at the H&M Foundation (pictured, right). “We are very excited to develop this technology and scale it beyond the laboratory, which will benefit the global environment, people and communities.”

H&M develops new recycling method for textile blends

In 2016, the H&M Foundation and HKRITA established the Closed-Loop Apparel Recycling Eco-System Program with the aim to find at least one technology to recycle apparel made from textile blends. The project is slated to run until 2020 and, helped by Ehime University and Shinshu University in Japan, is already making headway with the new hydrothermal process.

“By being able to upcycle used textiles into new high value textiles, we no longer need to solely rely on virgin materials to dress a growing world population. This is a major breakthrough in the pursuit of a fashion industry operating within the planetary boundaries,” said HKRITA CEO Edwin Keh (pictured, left).

Total project investment of the to-date largest textile recycling project is estimated at 36 million US dollars, of which the H&M Foundation has already contributed 2.9 million US dollars, overall targeting a contribution of 6.89 million US dollars. Seven million US dollars have been raised in research funding, for example by The Hong Kong SAR Government’s Innovation and Technology Fund.

Photos: H&M Foundation website