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H&M and researchers claim breakthrough in textiles recycling

H&M Foundation and The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) have claimed a “major breakthrough in the journey towards a closed loop for textiles” with a textile recycling process.

One year into the partnership, HKRITA, together with Ehime University and Shinshu University in Japan, have developed a hydrothermal process to 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% biodegradable green chemical. 

The technology will be scaled up and made available to the global fashion industry. 

Erik Bang, head of innovation at H&M Foundation, said: "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.”

The H&M Foundation initiated the partnership with HKRITA in September 2016, backed by €5.8 million of funding, with HKRITA conducting the research and work to commercialise the outcomes. The Innovation and Technology Fund of the Hong Kong SAR Government has also provided substantial funding and support. The total project investment is estimated to around €30 million during the four-year collaboration (2016-2020).

Edwin Keh, CEO of HKRITA, added: “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.”

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