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H&M Foundation Announces Solution to Recycle Blended Textiles Into New Fabrics

The four-year innovative partnership between the non-profit H&M Foundation and The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) announced Monday a solution to recycle blend textiles into new fabrics and yarns—without any quality loss.

The solution is part of the Closed-Loop Apparel Recycling Eco-System Program aimed to find at least one ready technology to recycle clothes made from blend textiles, within the four-year project period.

One year into the partnership, HKRITA has together with Ehime University and Shinshu University in Japan, has successfully developed a hydrothermal, or chemical, process to fully separate and recycle cotton and polyester blends. The recovered polyester material can be reused directly, without any quality loss.

The hydrothermal process uses only heat, water and less than 5 percent biodegradable green chemical to self-separate cotton and polyester blends. H&M Foundation claims this fiber-to-fiber recycling method is cost effective, and results in zero secondary pollution to the environment, ensuring the life of the recycled material is prolonged in a sustainable way. The technology will be licensed widely to ensure broad market access and maximum impact.

“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,” said Erik Bang, H&M Foundation innovation lead.

The H&M Foundation reports that the collaboration is one of the most comprehensive efforts ever for textile recycling. The foundation initiated the partnership with HKRITA in September 2016. It is backed by an estimated $6.5 million of funding, with HKRITA conducting the research and work to commercialize the outcomes.