Company J is a local upcycling factory open for fiber recycling. Collaborated with a research institute and an international fashion brand, this mill aims to adopt innovative solutions to recycling blended textiles into new fibers and yarns through hydrothermal process and biological method. This action is a breakthrough to realize “cradle-to-cradle” for textiles.
The hydrothermal process uses only heat, water and less than 5% of a biodegradable green chemical, to self-separate cotton and polyester blends. The recovered polyester material can be reused directly, almost without any quality loss. This fiber-to-fiber recycling method is cost-effective, and there is no secondary pollution to the environment, ensuring the life of the recycled material is prolonged in a sustainable way. Biological treatment is also adopted for textile waste recycling. Fermentable glucose and polyester fibers from textile waste will be recovered through bioprocessing. This new approach to textile waste treatment includes the pre-treatment and the enzymatic hydrolysis process. The recovered sugar can be used to produce biodegradable products such as bio-surfactant (as a cleaning agent) and bio-based polymers1.
The company carries out mechanical recycling, where soiled or damaged fabrics are sanitized, buttons and zippers removed, and sorted and stored. The operation will be categorized in different colors, and the materials are UV-sterilized before being cut into pieces and spun into yarn without water or dying. It has also installed a system to separate cotton and polyester blends using heat, water and small quantities of biodegradable chemicals. The cotton is turned into cellulose powder and the polyester fiber is recycled for spinning. At the moment, the company operates in a small scale and conducts an experiment for industrial-scale production in the future.
Company J is a successful model for new technology application of textile recycling as well as collaboration model among academic research organization, brand and manufacturer. Research capacity for fashion in Hong Kong is ranked amongst the top in the world, yet relatively few achievements in industrial scale is realized eventually. It is worth considering how to collaborate with local academic organizations to develop feasible and valuable innovation for manufacturers, through which the Hong Kong fashion industry can be revitalized with advanced technologies instead of sole traditional competition.