The concept of circular economy is gaining more and more ground in the business world with many companies adopting circular policies and strategies. Many of these progressive companies are, however, not satisfied with simply recycling whatever they can, they need to be sure that they are not recycling hazardous chemicals that might be present in the materials.
Two such companies are IKEA and H&M. They are both dedicated towards becoming circular in a matter of years but avoid recycling materials that contain hazardous chemicals. Now, the two companies have joined forces in a large-scale study reviewing chemical content of recyclable fabrics such as shirts, pants and other textiles.
“Increasing the use of recycled materials whilst ensuring that we keep textiles free of toxic chemicals presents a challenge for the industry”, Anna Biverstål, Global Business Expert on Materials at H&M, said in a press release from the company.
The study began in May 2018 but was announced at this year’s Textile Exchange Sustainability Conference. IKEA and H&M have collected 166 samples of cotton-based textiles, mostly from clothes that had been donated, and spent months running them through chemical analysis in 8,000 tests.
“This is the first study of this sort and we look forward to inviting others to join this approach”
Even if more data is needed, the study has so far found cancer-causing chromium compounds used in the dyeing process in 8.7% of the samples and hormone-disrupting alkylphenol ethoxylates used to make pigments in 19.3% of samples.
“To our knowledge, this is the first study of this sort and scale and we look forward to inviting others to join this approach and collectively increase our understanding [of chemicals in recyclable textiles]”, said Mirjam Luc, Project Leader for Circular Materials at IKEA, in a press release.
Theresa Kjell, ChemSec’s Senior Business and Policy Advisor, thinks the joint study is a step in the right direction:
“Collaborating and sharing costs and experiences is a great way forward, I hope this will inspire other companies to do the same. Without information on chemicals in recycled material, circular economy will never become more than nice words and good intentions”.
IKEA and H&M will continue with the study and as a next step test recyclable polyester and wool-based textiles.