IKEA and H&M Group are both transforming into circular businesses, committing to only use recycled, renewable or other sustainably sourced materials by 2030. But closing the recycling loop in a circular business model for materials like textiles presents many challenges.
To address the challenge around lack of knowledge about the chemical content in collected recyclable textiles, H&M Group and IKEA decided to collaborate in a large test study.
“The challenge of finding fact-based information about recyclable textiles on a large scale requires industry wide collaboration. We wanted to join forces with others to find innovative solutions, enabling meaningful and scalable changes”, says Mirjam Luc, Project Leader for Recycled Textiles at IKEA.
She is spearheading the study together with Linn Farhadi, Project Leader for Recycled Textiles at H&M Group.
Linn nods at Mirjam’s reasons for collaborating and continues:
Mirjam Luc, IKEA, and Linn Farhadi, H&M Group
“Our two companies have worked together in different projects before and have a history of sharing experiences within chemical management. It felt like a natural step to start working together in this area too.”
The chemicals of cotton
The first – and concluded – part of the study concerned cotton. All textile materials can be divided into three categories: virgin, pre-consumer and post-consumer. The IKEA/H&M Group study included pre- and post-consumer cotton samples collected from recyclers.
Pre-consumer textiles are usually waste from production and therefore easier to control in terms of chemical content, while post-consumer textiles have been worn or used by consumers or industry.
“As a brand, you can be in much better control if you only use waste from your own production streams. Challenges might increase when adding industrial production waste with unknown origin”, Mirjam explains.
Chemical differences between virgin, pre-, and post-consumer cotton
The team tested the cotton samples for 8 groups of chemical substances, such as APEO, azo dyes, formaldehyde, organotins, and PAH. They used the AFIRM RSL (Apparel and Footwear International Restricted Substances List) test matrix to make conclusions and define the probability of detection rate for the tested substances in the recycled cotton.
Some substances were not detected at all, whereas others were detected at very low levels. The results indicated that there is a difference between pre- and post-consumer textiles.
“For the post-consumer cotton, the test results indicated that APEO is the substance group with highest probability to be detected, while azo dyes and other allergenic and carcinogenic dyes have an almost negligible probability of being detected”, says Linn.
The tests also revealed some interesting findings concerning the probability to find hazardous chemicals in recycled cotton compared to virgin.
“For example, we could see that the probability of detecting organotins is slightly higher in recycled pre-consumer cotton compared to virgin cotton, while the probability of detecting PAH and formaldehyde is potentially lower in recycled pre-consumer cotton compared to virgin”, says Mirjam.
Chemsec, 17 March 2021