According to a waste statistics from Greenpeace in 2015, people in Hong Kong throw away 110,000 tonnes of textile products annually. Among these textiles wastes, there is a substantial amount made from blended materials. However, no commercially viable separation, sorting, and recycling technologies are currently available for materials such as cotton and polyester blends.
The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) has partnered H&M Foundation to develop practical solutions to recycle blended textiles into new fabrics and yarns. The objective of the collaboration is to facilitate the development of a closed loop textiles industry. The technology will be licensed widely to ensure broad market access and maximum impact.
The four-year collaboration will cover a series of research projects from 2016 to 2020. At present, two directions are identified: biological and chemical. The chemical method is to recycle PET/cellulose from cotton and PET blends through hydrothermal treatment and dissolution treatment. No harmful chemicals are involved, and no sorting is needed which means energy consumption is low. The project is led by our in-house research team.
The biological way is to recover glucose and synthetic fibre from textile wastes. Enzymes like cellulose and β-glucosidase are used to degrade bio-degradable textiles such as cottons and wools into glucose, while the non-biodegradable textiles such as polyester and polyamide, are recovered for textile application after the enzymatic hydrolysis. The project is carried out by Dr Carol Lin, Assistant Professor, School of Energy and Environment, City University of Hong Kong.
"Our goal is to develop a multi-discipline research platform that engages in innovative, impactful, and long term research efforts to improve closed loop recycling, and reduce damage to our environment," revealed Mr Edwin Keh. "Sustainability is one of our key research focuses. We look forward to providing practical solutions to this pressing challenge. We are very happy to partner with H&M Foundation and grateful that they are helping us make our work possible," he continued.
H&M Foundation will contribute Euros 5.8 million to this collaboration. "This is one of the biggest and most comprehensive efforts ever for textile recycling. 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 to work 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" declare Erik Bang, Project Manager at H&M Foundation.