The nonprofit H&M Foundation and the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) opened two first-of-their-kind textile recycling facilities in Hong Kong, where HKRITA's breakthrough hydrothermal recycling technology will for the first time be put into practice at scale, and a miniaturised Garment-To-Garment Recycling System is opened for the public. These facilities are the results of the Foundation's partnership with HKRITA to accelerate research on textile recycling to speed up the development of a closed loop for textiles.
In September 2017, only one year into the four-year long partnership, HKRITA presented a hydrothermal method for recycling cotton and polyester blends into new fibres; blends are the most common type of textile in the world and remain largely unrecyclable.
A year later marks the opening of a pre-industrial-size facility scaling this technology, to invite fashion brands and stakeholders worldwide to see, test and implement the technology within their own operations. As a nonprofit, the H&M Foundation works to drive change for the global fashion industry; HKRITA will license the results widely to make it available to all and enable a bigger impact. "This is a significant step towards a new fashion industry that operates within the planetary boundaries," says Erik Bang, Innovation Lead at the H&M Foundation. "As we scale up and make this technology freely available to the industry, we will reduce the dependence on limited natural resources to dress a growing global population."
In addition, customers can bring their unwanted clothes, and watch the container-sized Garment-To-Garment Recycling System recycle their garments and make new fashion finds.
"Seeing is believing, and when customers see with their own eyes what a valuable resource garments at end of life can be, they can also believe in recycling and recognize the difference their actions can make," Bang says. The Garment-To-Garment Recycling System is the result of a collaboration between HKRITA, the H&M Foundation and Novetex, and located at Hong Kong's The Mills, a newly repurposed former textile mill.
"After successfully developing revolutionary recycling technologies, we have devoted sustained effort to put them into practice. Our recycling systems represent the industry's well-applied innovation efforts. These not only revitalise a decades-old major industry, but also do it most sustainably for the benefit of our community and as a responsible global citizen," says Edwin Keh, Chief Executive Officer of HKRITA.
The H&M Foundation is projected to invest €5.8 million with HKRITA over four years. The investment is made possible through the surplus from the H&M group's in-store garment collecting programmes, which is donated to the H&M Foundation. The H&M Foundation allocates 50% of the total surplus to research on textile recycling and the other 50% to projects focusing on equality and inclusion of marginalised groups.
Meanwhile, the H&M Foundation has also opened the fourth round of its annual Global Change Award textile innovation challenge, which provides €1 million in funding and yearlong coaching to innovators who come up with solutions to spark the shift towards a circular fashion industry. This year, there's an emphasis on ideas within digitalisation. "This year, we keep an extra eye on digital innovations which can make significant impact on efficiency, planning and resource use – all the way from making raw material to a garment's end of life," Bang said. "Digitalization has the potential to disrupt at the root, reinvent how things are done and help producers, sellers and customers to become circular." The Global Change Award wants to find tomorrow's game-changers. Innovations should have the potential to make fashion circular; other criteria include impact and scalability, that it's novel & economically sustainable, and that the team is suited to make a difference. Previous winners with unexpected techniques, methods & fabrics show an incredible range of innovation possibilities, & how they can unlock solutions to big challenges. This year's Early Bird Winner, US-based startup Tandem Repeat, uses self-healing characteristics in squid genes to create programmable fabrics that are biodegradable & 100% recyclable. Applications will be accepted through October 17; winners will be crowned at the Grand Award Ceremony in Stockholm City Hall in April 2019.