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Large scale Ikea and H&M Group study shows potential of recycled textiles

By Simone Preuss


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Image: H&M Group

Inter Ikea, the holding controlling the Swedish furniture giant Ikea, and the H&M Group initiated a large-scale study in 2019 to analyse the chemical content in recycled textiles. The aim of the study has been to strategically increase the knowledge and to overcome challenges to exchange data, and stimulate chemical transparency across the industry.

Through this broad industry collaboration, both companies have been able to create a large-scale databank to understand the potentials and challenges of recycled textiles from a chemical contamination perspective. The Inter Ikea Group and the H&M Group will now use these findings to increase knowledge around the chemical content in recycled textiles and to impact legislation around circular economy. Both companies plan to only use renewable and recycled materials by 2030.

A key step is to find clean and reliable sources of recyclable materials. During autumn of 2020, Adidas, Bestseller, Kingfisher, Gap Inc. and PVH Corp. joined the study as contributors to advance this goal.  

Industry collaboration supports circular business

“With industry collaboration, we can overcome common challenges on our way to transform to a circular business. 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,” commented Mirjam Luc, project leader for recycled textiles at Ikea, in a press release.

As part of the study, post-consumer cotton, wool, and polyester waste sourced from different regions of the world were tested, resulting in a total of 70,080 data points. Only 2.5 percent of the data points showed undesirable detections according to the AFIRM Restricted Substances List (Apparel and Footwear International RSL Management), and less than 1 percent of data points exceeded AFIRM RSL2 limits.

Post-consumer polyester samples had the widest variety of substances detected. In post-consumer wool samples almost all samples contained at least one substance that failed against AFIRM RSL limits. “Tackling the presence of legacy chemicals and hazardous chemicals in recycled materials will be key in realising circularity within the fashion and textile industry,” sums up the study.

“To achieve fully circular and future-proof products, legacy chemicals must be avoided from the start. Only through industry collaboration and a transparent, harmonised hazard assessment methodology for all chemicals and materials can we be proactive and secure safe and sustainable products for a toxic-free textile future,” says Linn Farhadi, project manager for recycled textiles at the H&M Group.

Inter Ikea & H&M Group will put together list of safe recycled textiles

The two companies will now use the study findings to support public policy to enable the usage of safe recycled textiles. The results will also be used to advocate for establishing an acknowledged and harmonised hazard assessment methodology for chemicals used in production. “This ensures that brands can assess the best available chemicals from a safety and recyclability perspective. Any chemicals hampering recycling and material recovery should be restricted,” sum up Inter Ikea and the H&M Group.

”It’s great to see companies working together to gain increased knowledge about the chemical content of recycled textiles. We hope that studies like these will result in cleaner material flows and also motivate legislators to speed up the work with phasing out hazardous substances in products”, says Theresa Kjell, senior policy advisor at ChemSec.

H&M Group
Sustainable Fashion