H&M develops method for recycling blend textiles into new fibres
The company said the finding is a major breakthrough in the journey towards a closed loop for textiles. The technology will now be scaled up and made available to the global fashion industry.
The work is part of a four-year partnership between the non-profit H&M Foundation and The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel. It was set up in September 2016 with the aim of finding at least one ready technology to recycle clothes made from blend textiles within the four-year period.
Working with Ehime University and Shinshu University in Japan, HKRITA has successfully developed a hydrothermal process to fully separate and recycle cotton and polyester blends just one year into the partnership. H&M said the recovered polyester material can be reused directly, without any quality loss. The hydrothermal process uses only heat, water and less than 5% biodegradable green chemical, to self-separate cotton and polyester blends.
Erik Bang, innovation lead at H&M Foundation and Edwin Keh, chief executive of HKRITA, said: "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.
“This very encouraging finding has the potential to change that. We are very excited to develop this technology and scale it beyond the laboratory, which will benefit the global environment, people and communities. 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.”
H&M Foundation's partnership with HKRITA is backed by an estimated €5.8 million of funding. The Innovation and Technology Fund of the Hong Kong SAR Government also provides additional funding and support. The total project investment is estimated to around €30 million during the four-year period. To date the H&M Foundation has donated €2.4 million to HKRITA.
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