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H&M Foundation Develops New Method for Recycling Textile Blends

The H&M Foundation is paving the way for a more circular economy with its latest advancement in recycling textile blends.

On Monday, the non-profit organization and The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and apparel (HKRITA) announced new innovative solutions for recycling blend textiles into new fabrics through a hydrothermal (chemical) process. Both parties aim to make this technology accessible to the global fashion industry and foster a closed loop for textiles 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,” H&M Foundation innovation lead Erik Bang said. “We are very excited to develop this technology and scale it beyond the laboratory, which will benefit the global environment, people and communities.”

Established last year, the Closed-Loop Apparel Recycling Eco-System Program is working to find at least one technology to recycle apparel made from textile blends. The project, which is slated to run until 2020, is making headway with the new hydrothermal process, which fully separates and recycles materials like cotton and polyester.

Using only heat, less than 5 percent biodegradable green chemical and water, the hydrothermal process can self-separate cottons and polyester. The resulting polyester is usable without any quality loss. The fiber-to-fiber recycling process fosters a second life for fibers and is cost efficient for apparel companies. The technology will be licensed globally across several markets for maximum impact.

[Read more on H&M’s sustainability efforts: The Latest in Sustainability: H&M’s rPET Apparel, Canada Goose Under Fire, Seaqual Tackles Underwater Plastic]

H&M Foundation and HKRITA began their partnership in September 2016, and the program is currently backed by approximately $7 million in research funding. HKRITA is working on research and furthering blended textile recycling technology, while The Hong Kong SAR Government’s Innovation and Technology Fund also supports the project’s initiatives. During the four-year collaboration, total project investment is estimated to be $36 million, making it one of the largest textile recycling advancements to date.

H&M’s financial contributions are tied directly to the company’s in-store recycling program. To date, HKRITA has received $2.9 million from the H&M Foundation. Together, both parties hope to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint through an efficient recycling processes for blends.

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