The global non-profit H&M Foundation announced last week its plans to partner with the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) for the purpose of furthering textile recycling technology. The H&M Foundation will contribute EUR 5.8 million while the Hong Kong SAR Government’s Innovation and Technology Fund will provide additional funding and support to the four-year partnership. The goal of the partnership is to develop the new technologies required to recycle blended textiles into new yarns and fabrics, and to license said technology widely to ensure maximum market impact.
Although single fibre fabrics like denim jeans can be recycled easily enough, the majority of garments sold today are manufactured from blends of different fibres. Recycling blended textiles is a difficult procedure that has proved too complicated and costly to master so far. The technology needed to separate, sort and recycle fibre blends like cotton and polyester simply does not yet exist in a commercially viable form and as a result used or discarded textiles manufactured from blended fibres are often disposed of in landfills. The textiles industry has not been able to avail of the benefits of recycling like other industries, such as plastic, have.
Clothing and household textiles are responsible for around 5.2% of waste in landfills in the U.S., with the total clothing waste equalling around 3.8 billion pounds for the country. The total textile waste per year for the U.S. is around 13 million tons, while Britain generates around 1.12 million tons of textile waste every year. In contrast, almost 100% of textiles are recyclable.
The partnership between the H&M Foundation and HKRITA is the biggest effort so far to develop dedicated textile recycling technology. The project aims to develop at least one technology for the manufacturing of new clothes from textile blends, a major step towards a closed textile recycling loop for the fashion industry. The H&M Foundation and HKRITA will work on a number of research projects, with HKRITA conducting most of the research necessary to develop commercially viable solutions for mass adoption.
The H&M Foundation has donated EUR 1.6 million to HKRITA to date, and will be the main funder for these series of research projects taking place during the 2016-2020 period. The textile yarn market is expected to be worth USD 12.64 billion by 2020, but this value could be even greater if the H&M Foundation and HKRITA are able to develop efficient and cost-effective textile recycling technology.
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