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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Large-Scale Study from H&M, IKEA Shows Safer Path Forward for Recycled Textiles

On completion of a two-year, collaborative industry study, the two companies will share the findings to understand potentials and challenges with recycled textiles from a chemical-contamination perspective and to impact circular economy legislation.

For the growing number of companies working to make their products and operations more sustainable, circular approaches have come to be seen as one of the most promising ways to achieve those goals. That’s still true; but as Swedish researchers have recently reminded us, we have a lot more to learn and account for in order for a circular economy to succeed.

One of those things, the researchers pointed out, is contending with the vast amount of materials and products that people have already accumulated — including textiles, the recycling of which has created a flurry of innovations in recent years.

Two companies with ambitious materials goals are H&M Group and Inter IKEA Group — both have committed to only use 100 percent renewable, recycled or other sustainably sourced materials by 2030. While the aforementioned flurry of innovations might make this seem simple, a key step in making good on these promises is to find clean and reliable sources of recyclable materials — which, as it turns out, is much less simple.

In 2019, the two companies joined forces to tackle this industrywide challenge — launching a large-scale study looking at toxic chemicals present in recycled textiles, which can be sourced from all over the world. joined in the effort, the aim of which was to strategically increase knowledge, exchange data, and stimulate chemical transparency across the industry. Collaboration is essential to enable real change within the textile industry, and in fall of 2020, fellow textile giants adidas, Bestseller, Gap, Kingfisher and PVH Corp joined the study as contributors. With all involved companies’ size and presence, there is a great opportunity to drive the necessary change. Even though the study is now finalized, a lot of work still needs to be done.

How to engage consumers as suppliers in a circular economy

Hear more from BBMG, eBay and Williams Sonoma on activating consumers as the critical ‘missing link’ in emerging circular models around clothes, footwear and other CPGs at SB'21 San Diego — October 18-21.

“With industry collaboration, we can overcome common challenges on our way to transform to a circular business,” said Mirjam Luc, Project leader for Recycled Textiles at IKEA of Sweden. “This study has enabled us to share data through a digital platform, creating transparency and knowledge sharing, as well as creating facts to support us in taking our next steps on our journey to only use recycled and renewable materials.”

The study

Post-consumer cotton, wool and polyester waste sourced from different regions of the world were tested for chemicals flagged by the AFIRM (Apparel and Footwear International RSL Management) Restricted Substances List. Post-consumer polyester samples had the widest variety of substances detected; and in post-consumer wool samples, almost all contained at least one substance that exceeded AFIRM RSL limits.

The findings from the study build on the work of ZDHC and Greenpeace, which have long been pushing the fashion and textile industries to detoxify. Tackling the presence of legacy chemicals and hazardous chemicals in recycled materials will be key in realizing true circularity and sustainability within the fashion and textile industry. As Linn Farhadi, Project Manager for Recycled Textiles at H&M Group, said:

“To achieve fully circular and future-proof products, legacy chemicals must be avoided from the start. Only through industry collaboration and a transparent, harmonized hazard-assessment methodology for all chemicals and materials can we be proactive, and secure safe and sustainable products for a toxic-free textile future. By sharing initial findings from the study, we can create awareness and a new understanding to review the entire value chain of textiles, from production and consumption, towards recycling.”

H&M Group and IKEA will use the findings of the study to support public policy to enable usage of recycled textiles, which are safe to use. The results will also be used to advocate for establishing an acknowledged and harmonized hazard-assessment methodology for chemicals used in production — to ensure that brands can assess the best available chemicals from a safety and recyclability perspective, and that chemicals hampering recycling and material recovery are restricted.

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