The EUR5.8m (US$6.5m) R&D effort will look for ways to recycle apparel made from blended fabrics

The EUR5.8m (US$6.5m) R&D effort will look for ways to recycle apparel made from blended fabrics

A new four-year global partnership has been set up between the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) and the non-profit H&M Foundation to develop new technologies to recycle blend textiles into new fabrics and yarns.

The results of the EUR5.8m (US$6.5m) collaboration will be licensed to the wider industry to ensure broad market access and maximum impact.

Apparel and textile products made from blended fabrics account for a high proportion of all products on the market today – yet there are no commercially viable separation, sorting, and recycling technologies for many of the most popular materials, such as cotton and polyester blends.

While it is possible to mechanically recycle single fibre fabrics such as denim jeans and wool sweaters, garments are very often made from a blend of different fibres to improve fit, style, comfort and longevity.

Used apparel of blended or unknown materials currently end up either discarded in landfills, or downcycled into insulation, carpeting, and other low value applications.

The partnership plans to develop a series of research projects, with HKRITA carrying out the research and working to commercialise the outcomes.

"This is one of the biggest and most comprehensive efforts ever for textile recycling," says Erik Bang, project manager at H&M Foundation, the charitable arm of global fashion retailer H&M.

"The overall aim for us as a Foundation is to protect the planetary boundaries and work to ensure living conditions. We want to develop at least one ready technology to recycle clothes made from textile blends into new clothes. This would be a major breakthrough in the journey towards a closed loop for textiles in the fashion industry."

Edwin Keh, CEO of HKRITA, adds: "Sustainability is one of our key research focuses. We aim to develop technologies that are scalable and commercially viable."

The project will run from 2016 to 2020 and is being co-funded by H&M Foundation and HKRITA. Additional research funding and support will come from the Innovation and Technology Fund of the Hong Kong SAR Government.

The exact financial contribution from H&M Foundation will be determined by the surplus from H&M's global in-store garment collecting programme, which is donated to H&M Foundation. Half of this donation is allocated to research on textile recycling, and to date it has donated EUR1.6m to HKRITA.

The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel was established in 2006 and is one of five applied research centers sponsored by the Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF) of the Hong Kong SAR Government.

H&M Foundation, meanwhile, is privately funded by the Stefan Persson family, founders and main owners of H&M. Its aim is to drive long-lasting change education, clean water, strengthening women and protecting the planet.

Last week it launched its second EUR1m (US$1.1m) Global Change Award to find the next tranche of innovations to reinvent the fashion industry.

H&M Foundation seeks new sustainable ideas for $1m grant