Coated in chemicals? New research shows chemical contamination is limiting the ability to recycle fabrics
A global study led by IKEA and H&M discovered that harmful chemicals are widespread in fabric destined for recycling. Both companies aim to be only using renewable and recyclable materials by 2030. The 18-month collaboration explored which chemicals are found in used textiles and how this impacts finding clean sources of fabrics to recycle. The research uncovered substances ranging from heavy metals to flame retardants, bisphenols and phthalates in common materials such as cotton, wool and polyester.
Out of hundreds of samples of the different materials, the study found a concerning number containing harmful substances. For example, out of 169 samples of shredded polyester only 17 were free from harmful chemicals. But only polyester samples taken from the UK contained both PFAS and flame retardants.
Why are these substances used if they are so harmful?
Properties such as stain, fire and water resistance are desirable in fabrics and in some cases are legally mandatory. Unfortunately, some of the chemicals used to achieve these properties are known to cause cancer and reduce fertility amongst other health impacts.
CHEM Trust works at both the EU and UK levels to ensure that the most hazardous chemicals are banned from consumer products. This is imperative to not only to enable the reuse and recycling of fabric and textiles, but to minimise harm to human and environmental health that results from exposure to these substances.