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A garment-to-garment recycling machine on display at an H&M store in Stockholm on Oct. 8, 2020.

COLM FULTON/Reuters

Shoppers at H&M in Stockholm will be able to watch their old jumpers be knitted in to a new sweater or scarf on the spot as the world’s second-biggest fashion retailer looks for new ways to encourage its customers to recycle used garments.

The textile industry is one of the most polluting, something fashion giants are under increasing pressure to address as shoppers become more aware of the environmental impact of clothes production and as regulations tighten.

Finding commercially viable and green ways to recycle garments into new fabrics with no loss of quality is key to reducing the need for new fibre. Several research projects are testing new methods albeit still at small scale.

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“What we want to recycle is sitting in customers' wardrobes,” Erik Bang at philanthropic arm H&M Foundation told Reuters.

The budget retailer, which has a relatively ambitious sustainability agenda and aims to be carbon positive by 2040, will showcase the garment-to-garment recycling machine – developed by the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) in co-operation with the foundation – in a store in Stockholm.

Old garments will be pulled apart, spun into yarn and knitted into a either a sweater, a baby blanket or a scarf, and H&M plans to expand the choice of new products, a spokeswoman said.

H&M declined to say whether it would install the machine, a scaled-down version of an industrial-sized model, in other stores.

Pascal Brun, head of sustainability at the H&M brand, told Reuters that it would give customers an idea what happens behind the scenes.

“The purpose is to inspire our customers to keep their garments as long as possible but also to make them understand that their old garments have a value in recycling.”

Customers can already hand in used clothes in most H&M stores for recycling, although some have had to pause the service as lockdown measures crippled the multi-billion dollar trade in second-hand clothing relied upon by the industry to avoid castoffs going straight to landfill.

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In another project, part-funded by the H&M Foundation, HKRITA has developed a method to separate cotton and polyester in blended garments and an industrial-scale facility is under construction.

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