H&M’s New Recycling Technology
Could Change the Face of Fashion

The fashion retailer H&M’s charitable arm, the H&M foundation has opened a textile recycling plant in a bid to become a ‘truly circular’ company by 2030.

The facility in Hong Kong will use the company’s hydrothermal recycling technology, and this is the first time it has been used on an industrial scale. Hydrothermal recycling involves using heat, water, and a blend of biodegradable chemicals to separate materials like cotton and polyester from mixed fabrics, which are notoriously hard to recycle. Once the fibres have been separated, they can be reused to make new items.

H&M has branded the method ‘garment to garment recycling’ and the company claims that it prevents chemicals from leaching into the environment while reducing costs and carbon emissions. Only H&M will use the plant for the moment but the company say that it will licence the hydrothermal technology so it can be used by other manufacturers.

Saving natural resources

H&M has called the plant, which was also funded by the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel a significant step towards making fashion completely environmentally conscious and sustainable. The company say that once the technology becomes available to more companies in the fashion industry, there will be much less dependence on natural resources to make enough clothes for an ever-growing population.

The H&M foundation is showing customers a miniature version of the new technology at one of their pop up stores in Hong Kong to educate customers about recycling. The company are asking customers to bring unwanted clothing to the store, where they’ll be able to see how it works. Hopefully the proof will be in the pudding and customers will realise how valuable recyclable materials are and how recycling can really make a difference.

Investing in sustainability

The H&M Foundation and the Hong Kong research institute will invest more than £5 million into sustainable fashion initiatives over the next four years, and half of it will be spent on research into textile recycling. This comes after the company announced it would be one of the brands leading an Ellen MacArthur Foundation initiative to create a circular fashion industry. Other names that have pledged to join the initiative include Nike, GAP and Burberry.

The brands will join with banking giant HSBC and Stella McCartney to create business models that promote keeping materials in use by making them renewable and finding innovative ways to recycle them into new products.

Changes like these could help the global fashion industry to retrieve the $460 billion that is currently lost because of material wastage and the $100 billion that is lost when recyclable clothing is sent to landfill or the incinerator.