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Ground-breaking innovations to recycle textiles

Textile recycling is key to break the dependence on the use of limited natural resources. To speed up the process, the H&M Foundation partnered with The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel in 2016, to find a commercial method to recycle blend textiles. Already in 2017, a ground-breaking method was discovered, and one year later two first of its kind pre-industrial recycling facilities opened in Hong Kong.

€5.8M

estimated donation from the H&M Foundation to HKRITA during 2016-2020.

2017

the year when a process to fully separate and recycle cotton and polyester blends was discovered.

2018

the year when recycling facilities opened in Hong Kong – taking the fashion industry one step closer to circularity.

€5.8M

estimated donation from the H&M Foundation to HKRITA during 2016-2020.

2017

the year when a process to fully separate and recycle cotton and polyester blends was discovered.

2018

the year when recycling facilities opened in Hong Kong – taking the fashion industry one step closer to circularity.

The world population is growing, and with that increases the demand for new garments. However, since natural resources, such as cotton and wool, are limited – recycling is the key to break the dependence.

It’s possible to recycle garments made of only one material, such as wool jumpers or cotton trousers. However, most garments consist of blend textiles, the most common blend being polyester and cotton. Unfortunately, there’s no commercial viable method available for recycling these blends on a big scale. This needs to change and it must change fast.

To speed up this process, we partnered with The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) in 2016, with an ambitious goal to find at least one commercial method to recycle cotton and polyester blends within the four year-long project period.

RESEARCH BREAKTHROUGH

Only one year into the partnership, HKRITA and the H&M Foundation presented a breakthrough in the research, when a hydrothermal process was discovered that could fully separate and recycle cotton and polyester blends into new fibres and cellulose powder.

  • The process uses only heat, water and less than 5% biodegradable green chemical.
  • The method is cost effective.
  • No secondary pollution to the environment, ensuring that the life of the recycled material is prolonged in a sustainable way.
It is one of the biggest and most comprehensive research efforts ever for textile recycling.

INVITING FASHION INDUSTRY AND STAKEHOLDERS TO SEE AND LEARN

In 2018, HKRITA and H&M Foundation opened two first of its kind recycling facilities in Hong Kong:

  1. Pre-industrial recycling facility – recycling blend textiles in practise for the first time
  2. Miniaturized recycling station and shop – opened for the public to raise awareness on the need for and possibilities for textile recycling
“This is a significant step towards a new fashion industry that operates within the planetary boundaries.”

Erik Bang, Innovation Lead H&M Foundation

TECHNOLOGY AVAILABLE FOR ALL

As a non-profit, the H&M Foundation works to drive positive change for the global fashion industry. Therefore, HKRITA will license the results widely to reach the biggest impact possible. The purpose of the pre-industrial recycling facility is to invite fashion brands and stakeholders worldwide to see, test and implement this technology within their own operations.

H&M CUSTOMERS PART OF THE SUCCESS

The funding is made possible thanks to customers handing in unwanted items to H&M group’s garment collecting program. The surplus generated each year is donated by H&M group to H&M Foundation. Half of this donation is used for research on textile recycling, and half is used for projects focusing on equality.

The Innovation and Technology Fund of the Hong Kong SAR Government also provides substantial funding and support. The total project investment is estimated to around 30 million euro during the four-year collaboration, which makes it one of the biggest and most comprehensive efforts ever for textile recycling.

SUMMARY
Focus area: Planet
Project: Closed-Loop Apparel Recycling Eco-System Program
Country: Hong Kong, Japan
Partner: The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel
Project period: 2016-2020
Estimated donation: 5.8 million Euro
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