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Recycling blend textiles at scale

Only one year into our partnership with HKRITA, a breakthrough was made when the researchers discovered a hydrothermal process that could fully separate and recycle cotton and polyester blends into new fibres and cellulose powder, without any quality loss. It's a gentle process that doesn't damage the fibres contrary to many other processes.
Parts of the research team, from left: Erik Bang, Innovation Lead at H&M Foundation, Edwin Keh, CEO at HKRITA, Professor Kanji Kajiwara, Shinshu University and Dr. Gloria Lei Yao, Director Project Development at HKRITA.
The input into the Green Machine is textile made of cotton and polyester blends.
The machine uses only heat, water and less than 5% biodegradable green chemical to separate the fibres.
The result is a mixture of polyester fibres and liquid cellulose which is then separated
A large oven is used to dry the cellulose powder.
Polyester fibres (to the left) and cotton (cellulose powder) to the right.

To reach a circular fashion industry – recycling methods for blend textiles are key. Even though the majority of the clothes we wear are made of blend materials, there is no method available that can fully recycle these garments into new ones. Yet.

In 2017, our researchers in Japan reached a milestone when they discovered a hydrothermal method that has the potential to change the game completely.

  • Uses only heat, water and less than 5% biodegradable green chemical.
  • Is cost effective and time efficient.
  • Generates no secondary pollution since it’s a closed loop where water, heat and chemicals are used again and again.

The output is long and good quality polyester fibres which can be used to make new garments. The cotton is extracted as cellulose powder, which can be used in multiple ways. HKRITA is currently exploring if it can be used to further benefit the fashion industry.

From pre-industrial to industrial scale within a year

In September 2018, The Green Machine opened in Tai Po, Hong Kong. It’s a pre-industrial sized facility, which purpose is to invite fashion brands and stakeholders worldwide to see, test and implement this technology within their own operations.

“After successfully developing revolutionary recycling technologies, we have devoted sustained effort to put them into practice.”

Edwin Keh, CEO of HKRITA

At the time of the launch, the Green Machine had a capacity of recycling 100 kilo fabric per day and planned to reach 1,000 kilos per day within one year.

In 2019, another milestone was reached when a contract was signed with a supplier, who will build and implement a real sized recycling facility within their factory. The output will be used to make new garments and has the potential to revolutionize the whole fashion industry when it comes to possibilities of garment recycling.

SUMMARY
Focus area: Planet
Project: Part of Recycling Revolution
Country: Hong Kong
Partner: HKRITA
Project period: 2016-2020

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