estimated donation from the H&M Foundation to The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel during 2016-2020.
the year when HKRITA, together with Ehime University in Japan, successfully developed a process to fully separate and recycle cotton and polyester blends into new fibres.
During the last decades, the composition of fibres in clothes has become increasingly complex. In jeans, for example, denim is often mixed with elastane, making them more stretchy and comfortable but also harder to recycle. Hence, the H&M Foundation started a partnership with The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) in 2016. With an estimated funding of 5.8 million euros the aim to find at least one ready technology to recycle clothes made from blend textiles. Now, HKRITA has, together with Ehime University in Japan, successfully developed a hydrothermal (chemical) process to fully separate and recycle cotton and polyester blends into new fibres.
“For too long the fashion industry has not been able to properly recycle its products. This very encouraging breakthrough on separation and recycling of textile blends has the potential to change that. It is the customers’ collecting of old garments that have enabled this important research lead by The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel. We are very excited to now start to scale-up this technology and prove commercial viability,“ says Erik Bang, Program Manager at H&M Foundation.
The hydrothermal process uses only heat, water and less than 5% biodegradable green chemical, to self-separate cotton and polyester blends. This fibre-to-fibre recycling method is cost effective, and there’s no secondary pollution to the environment, ensuring the life of the recycled material is prolonged in a sustainable way.
Erik Bang, Program Manager at H&M Foundation
“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,” says Edwin Keh, Chief Executive Officer of HKRITA.
The funding to HKRITA is made possible thanks to customers handing in unwanted items to H&M’s garment collecting boxes. The surplus generated each year is donated to H&M Foundation, which in turn invests the donation in research on textile recycling (HKRITA) and projects focusing on equality. The Innovation and Technology Fund of the Hong Kong SAR Government also provides additional and substantial funding and support.
Next, the technology will be scaled up and tested further before being made available to the global fashion industry. When finalised, the technology will be licensed widely to ensure broad market access and maximum impact. It will benefit the environment as well as people and communities.