​h&m is offering a $1 million prize for garment recycling ideas

The Swedish high-street retailer wants to transform “throwaway culture” with new technology.

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Aug 26 2015, 2:17pm

H&M has launched an annual prize of $1 million to support bright new ideas for ways to recycle clothing. The prize is part of the high street retailer's drive for sustainability that seeks to recognize that the current "throwaway culture" -- people buying lots of cheap clothes and throwing them away after a short period of wear -- is unsustainable.

"No company, fast-fashion or not, can continue exactly like today," H&M Chief Exec Karl-Johan Persson told the Guardian, explaining that, "The [prize's] largest potential lies with finding new technology that means we can recycle the fibers with unchanged quality".

Shortages of cotton are particularly worrying, as the production of cotton clothing uses vast quantities of water and pesticides. Recycling techniques currently shed clothing, meaning poor-quality short fibers are the end product of the process. There are currently no efficient ways to recycle mixed fibers like polycotton (polyester and cotton), used in a very high percentage of high street fashion, so most "used" garments end up in landfill.

Prize jury member and environmental science professor at Stockholm university Johan Rockstrom, told the newspaper that the fashion industry must find business models that acknowledge global resource shortages. "This is a great challenge for H&M, whose trademark is cheap clothes at good quality," he said, explaining that, "The fact it's cheap means there's a risk people buy and throw away, or buy too much".

H&M also announced the launch of Fashion Recycling Week earlier this month. It starts August 31, and features a national shop window collaboration with students from London College of Fashion, who have used clothes donated to H&M's garment collection initiative in their creations.