WIRED x H&M | Investigating the machine reinventing recycling
To tackle its contribution to the world’s most pressing environmental problems, fashion needs to change, including reinventing its old models of production. In collaboration with H&M, WIRED’s New Moves series focuses on those making positive steps to shift the industry’s approach to sustainability. From community champions to supply chain disruptors, these are people at the forefront of a movement for clothing circularity.
“The fashion industry is relying on finite resources, it's over producing, over consuming and has a really big footprint on water, land, CO2 and biodiversity,” says Erik Bang, innovation lead at the H&M Foundation. Bang’s work seeks to remedy these flaws and has overseen the development of the groundbreaking Looop system. It’s the stuff of science fiction – an old garment goes in, a new garment comes out.
Using eight simple steps, the Looop system shreds an “end-of-life” piece of clothing and knits a new one from the fibres – using no water or dye. Its big breakthrough is that these eight machines have been miniaturised to fit into a standard shipping container, meaning it can be easily transported to showcase the whole process wherever it’s needed. “The point of Looop is to engage with consumers and influence their attitudes and behaviour,” explains Bang. “Textile is a valuable resource, not only to the planet, but also to this industry.”
“I encourage everybody to use their power as consumers to make better choices and to demand more from the companies they buy from.”
No clothes should ever end up in the bin, yet every week, 13 million items of clothing enter UK landfills alone. Recycling is a vital step we can all take to make circular fashion work: without people ensuring their old garments re-enter the system, there won’t be materials with which to produce new ones. Real, impactful change at scale also requires every brand to use similar models, a fact not lost on Bang: “The H&M Foundation is a non-profit and our work is focused on bringing positive change for the entire fashion industry,” he says. “We collaborate, fund and share the solutions openly.” To help the whole industry become more circular and raise awareness of the potential of garment recycling, the technology behind Looop is set to be widely licensed to other companies.
“I encourage everybody to use their power as consumers to make better choices and to demand more from the companies they buy from,” Bang advocates. “It's not all done overnight… but you can do a whole lot more than you think.” This isn’t about acting perfectly, just better and constantly striving to improve. As crucial as it is, progress takes work and means all us getting on board. Follow New Moves for how you can make an impact.
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