Innovative Recycling Technology – H&M’s revolutionary way to recycle textiles for the fashion industry.
The fast fashion industry is the second-dirtiest in the world, after oil. One of the key ways to make it more sustainable and something close to circular is the recycling of textile blends.
Eco-minded fashion companies have had a hard time figuring out how to recycle mixed-fibre textiles such as poly-cotton blends. While solicited by the ethical consumers, recycling mixed-fibre fabrics is a highly complex process, expensive often ending with poor results.
Nowadays recycling is done by mechanical means, where materials are cut down and blended into pieces. However, the method doesn’t work with mixed materials, resulting in poor quality textile that has to be blended again with fresh raw materials in order to become production suitable. Moreover, blended materials make up over 90 percent of all textiles today.
Until now! The Swedish fast-fashion giant H&M has launched a new program for innovative recycling. Working together with HKRITA (the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel), the H&M Foundation, – an independent charity/investment group, part of the Swedish clothing giant – has announced a breakthrough in the recycling of textile blends.
According to Erik Bang, Innovation Lead at H&M Foundation, the Hong Kong-based research institute has found a solution for textile blend recycling that could be commercially viable by 2020.
“The institute has found a way to recycle fibres of sufficient quality from polyester and cotton,” he says at the Hong Kong Fashion Summit.
The breakthrough involves a hydrothermal-chemical process which requires heat, water and 5 percent biodegradable agent, to separate cotton and polyester blends. The resulting recycled cotton fibres are sufficient for use in new textile production.
By collecting knowledge and testing findings from 15 or so academic papers projects that are leading the way in research into textile blend recycling, two technologies stood out: hydrothermal and biological recycling. The former earned the researchers’ support.
The H&M Foundation aims to scale up the technology to an industrial-level and soon after start making it available to the entire fashion industry by 2020. For this project, the foundation has allocated 6 million USD, reinforced by an additional 24 million USD originating from the Hong Kong government.
“By upcycling used textiles into new textiles, we no longer need to rely on virgin materials to dress a growing world population. It’s a breakthrough in the pursuit of a fashion industry operating within the planetary boundaries,” completed Edwin Keh, CEO of HKRITA.
Still, Erik Bang doesn’t believe this is the “magic wand” for a sustainable fashion industry but only a piece of the puzzle. He thinks that in the future innovative recycling plants will run on various different technologies that complement each other.
Whether the H&M’s group discovery is one of these ‘innovative recycling technologies’ of the future depends on its successful licencing and global adoption. Moreover, as of right now most of the H&M garments end up as waste the fashion giant is interested not only on how to reuse cotton and polyester for its circular supply chain but also investing in future technologies which can put H&M at the top of the fashion innovation movement.
If interested to know more, here are the startups H&M holds investments in.