Closing the Loop for the Fashion Industry: Recycling Technologies for Application

Textile wastes are pressing issues facing the industry. In 2016, average daily textile waste was 343 tonnes, constituting 3.3% of daily municipal solid waste disposed of at landfills in Hong Kong. Yet, the textile recovery rate for recycling has remained low at 3.4%. The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) has long been searching for effective ways to manage the growing volumes of disposed garments.

On 3 September 2018, the openings of new facilities at the Novetex Factory in Tai Po Industrial Estate and a retail shop selling ‘Garment-to-Garment’ (G2G) recycled garments in The Mills, Tsuen Wan represented HKRITA’s first local deployments of award-winning textile recycling technologies. These have been put into practice at both industrial and retail levels, providing ground-breaking solutions to reuse textiles made of mixed fibres.

Mrs Carrie Lam, Chief Executive (2nd Left) and Ms Ronna Chao, Chairman of Novetex Textiles Limited (2nd Right) together with Mr Nicholas Yang, Secretary for Innovation and Technology (1st Left) and Dr Harry Lee, Chairman of HKRITA (1st Right) host the opening ceremony of the Novetex Upcycling Factory
Mr Nicholas Yang (3rd right), in the company of other guests, toasts the opening ceremony of G2G recycling system retail shop

Hong Kong’s First Local Spinning Mill in Half a Century

The Novetex Factory is Hong Kong’s first-ever textile recycling mill and the first local spinning mill to have opened in half a century. A mechanical recycling system which is developed from the HKRITA’s project Upcycling Post-consumer Blends Products and sponsored by Novetex Textiles Limited provides a safe and dry process to upcycle textile waste into quality textile fibres in the factory which can then be used in the production of yarn, fabric and garments.

Mrs Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Chief Executive and Mr Nicholas W Yang, Secretary for Innovation and Technology, joined the opening ceremony at the Novetex Factory to witness the research efforts of HKRITA and Novetex Textiles Limited come to fruition.

The Novetex Factory is in full operation from October and will eventually have 3 production lines, each capable of producing one tonne a day of recycled fibres from post-consumer textiles. Ms Ronna Chao, Chairman, Novetex Textiles Limited, said, “Novetex Textiles Limited’s upcycling technology breathes new life into otherwise old and unwanted garments, upcycling them into fabrics for use in footwear, apparel, and other soft applications. This is a big step for us and for Hong Kong, as we help turn a new and exciting page in the quest for ‘Reindustrialisation and Innovation’.”

Mrs Carrie Lam delivers an opening speech for the opening ceremony
Ms Ronna Chao shares the company’s aspirations to create new life for discarded garments through the cutting-edge textile upcycling system
Mrs Carrie Lam visits Hong Kong’s first recycling mill with other guests
This Novetex Upcycling Factory will eventually have three production lines, with each capable of producing one tonne of recycled fibres a day

Effective Separation Solution to Recycle Textile Blends

The factory also provides a testing place for the pre-industrial scale hydrothermal system which enables material separation of cotton polyester blends. The separated polyester fibres are ideal for spinning and manufacturing of new fabric, while cellulose powders, decomposed from the cotton, can be applied to functional products or regenerated fibre. This project is one of the joint collaborations between HKRITA and H&M Foundation since the two parties kicked off a four-year partnership in 2016.

With an aim of closing the loop for the textile and clothing industry, technologies from the collaboration will be made available through licensing to ensure broad market access. The H&M Foundation has to date, donated EUR 3.5 million in funding, out of a total amount of EUR 5.8 million committed under the partnership.

Since 2016, promising solutions including chemical and biological treatments have been identified to recycle blended textiles into new fabrics and yarns. HKRITA is going to focus the research direction on enhancing the efficiency of fibre-to-fibre closed loop recycling technologies, improving the properties of the separated fibres and cellulose powders, giving added value to textile fibre, and extending the application of separated powders in order to develop more sustainable solutions for the industry.

Mr Erik Bang, Innovation Lead of the H&M Foundation, said, “This is a significant step towards a new fashion industry that operates within the planetary boundaries. More importantly, we want to make an impact on our industry to protect our planet and our living conditions. As we scale up and make this technology freely available to the industry, we will reduce our dependence on limited natural resources to clothe a growing global population.”

The eco-friendly hydrothermal treatment system enables material separation of blended-fibre fabrics
Mr Erik Bang says the recycling technology reduces our dependence on limited natural resources to clothe a growing global population

New and Accessible Experience of Garment Recycling

The G2G Recycle System, which set up in a retail shop in The Mills, is a joint collaboration among HKRITA, the H&M Foundation and Novetex Textiles Limited with the support of The Mills. Mr Yang also took part in the opening ceremony of the retail shop selling G2G recycled garments in The Mills in the morning session on 3 September 2018.

The G2G Recycle System is a mini-scale garment-to-garment production line to recycle post-consumer garments into clean and useful products. It tackles technical challenges of how each process in the entire production line should be configured for operational compatibility within a small space. Members of the public are encouraged to bring items of their unwanted clothing to the shop, select their preferred style, and then take a new garment home. The G2G shop opens new ways for the traditional textile and fashion industry to interface with consumers, and presents possibilities for fresh business models and a new digital fashion business.

In addition to housing the pioneering G2G Recycle System, the Mills is also a revitalisation project by Nan Fung Group transforming the textile factory into a destination for innovation, culture and learning. Ms Vanessa Cheung, Founder of The Mills, revealed that “we are extremely excited about the launch of the G2G retail space at The Mills. This techstyle system is a re-invention of how we think about recycling as well as sustainability that vividly represents the core value of the Mills. We hope that with the launch of this new retail space, consumers can better understand the changes in the global techstyle space and be inspired to be more sustainable in their lifestyles.”

Mr Nicholas Yang delivers an opening speech
The G2G Recycle System is a pioneering production line to recycle used clothes to become new garments
Guests give interview to the media

From Innovation to Application

Mr Edwin Keh, Chief Executive Officer of HKRITA, mentioned that “after successfully developing revolutionary recycling technologies, we have devoted sustained effort to putting them into practice. ‘Made in Hong Kong’ from our recycling systems in the yarn mill and the mini-scale system in the retail shop represent the industry’s effectively applied innovation efforts. These not only revitalise a decades-old major industry, but also do it sustainably for the benefit of our community and as a responsible global citizen. Indeed, the end-to-end sustainability measures during the processes discourage unnecessary disposal of clothes by demonstrating that textile recycling is possible even in compact and busy cities like Hong Kong.”

Mr Edwin Keh states that ‘Made in Hong Kong’ from the recycling systems in the yarn mill and the mini-scale system in the retail shop represent the industry’s effectively applied innovation efforts