Recycling blended textiles is a huge challenge because no commercially viable separation, sorting and recycling technologies are available for many of the most popular materials, such as cotton and polyester blends.
While single-fiber fabrics such as denim jeans can be recycled, meaning these garments can be reused to make new apparel and textiles, used apparel and textiles made from blended or unknown materials are usually either discarded in landfills, or downcycled into insulation, carpeting and other low value applications.
In a €5.8 million ($6.5 million) effort to develop a new textile recycling technologies, H&M Foundation — the nonprofit foundation funded by global fashion retailer H&M — and the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel have formed a four-year partnership with the aim of recycling blended textiles into new fabrics and yarns.
The organizations say the technology will be licensed widely to ensure broad market access.
Under the partnership, H&M Foundation will contribute financially to help develop a series of research projects. The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel will conduct the research and work to commercialize the outcomes. The Innovation and Technology Fund of the Hong Kong SAR Government will provide additional research funding and support.
The exact financial contribution from H&M Foundation is determined by the surplus from H&M’s global in-store garment collecting program, which is donated to H&M Foundation. Half of this donation is allocated to research on textile recycling. To date the H&M Foundation has donated €1.6 million ($1.8 million) to the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel.
“We want to develop at least one ready technology to recycle clothes made from textile blends into new clothes,” said Erik Bang, Project Manager at H&M Foundation in a statement. “This would be a major breakthrough in the journey towards a closed loop for textiles in the fashion industry.”
H&M is also among the 176 companies to commit to setting science based targets to shrink its environmental footprint. The Science Based Targets initiative, a joint effort of CDP, the UN Global Compact, World Resources Institute and World Wildlife Fund, works with companies to set emissions targets and only approves those that meet its strict criteria.