Fashion giant from Sweden, H&M group has reported being partnering with (HKRITA) the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textile and Apparel. The company is investing US$12 million for the exploration and innovation of high-tech solutions that would lead the industry towards sustainability through its program "Planet First".
So far they have successfully come up with a hydrothermal textile recycling process called "Green Machine" which efficiently manages to separate recycled mix cotton and polyester fibers and the in-store recycling machine "The Looop" which can turn old garments into new ones. The Hong Kong government is also funding a US$100 million project through its Innovation and Technology Fund.
Edwin Keh, the HKRITA CEO, revealed about their 5-year-old partnership with H&M. They wanted to come up with new sustainability solutions and control commercialization in the market. The innovation and Technology fund contributed a lot in making Hong Kong a hub for sustainability solutions for the textile and fashion industry.
Keh further puts light on the three methods of post-consumer recycling that are chemical, mechanical and biological. He talks about the challenge faced during the process in extracting one material the other one gets lost, like if you can extract polyester then cellulose will dissolve.
Firstly they also preferred chemical recycling but later it was found to be contributing to the waste stream. Now they are encouraged to rely on the separation processes that are only based on heat and pressure. It is an efficient system that can produce recycled fibers of quality equivalent to virgin material with no additional costs. In the process of recycling polyester by Green Machine, they were getting cellulose as a by-product in powder form. Afterward, they successfully produced a new viscose material out of that powder which they eventually got patented and used for garments, which were made from the waste coming from the landfill. They also explored their second unexpected discovery real soon that was the cellulosic powder obtained in the Green Machine was turned into a super-absorbent polymer which held potential sustainability for the agricultural sector. With this material used in a cotton field, they discovered that they can produce almost irrigation-free cotton with it.
Keh also accepts the fact that many of their experiments were not successful at an applicable scale. He reinforces the fact that the fashion industry needs technological innovations like these to cope up with the challenges like pollution, climate change, resource conservation, and many more. Keh also mentions pushing their boundaries for future targets and hopefulness for the upcoming projects.
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