Military high tech used to combat fast fashion fallout

Security Matters, an Australian-listed Israeli tech solutions company with clients in the electronics, minerals, plastics, security, and agriculture industries, has a solution used in security and defence that can help reduce the volume of garments and textiles that are incinerated or landfilled every year.

The global €1 trillion-a-year fashion industry is facing increasing consumer and political pressure to reduce its oversized environmental impact. Currently, less than one percent of textiles produced for clothing is recycled into new clothes, representing a lost opportunity of more than US$100bn annually and high costs for landfilling and incineration: 87% of material used for clothing production is landfilled or incinerated.

The greatest hurdle in turning fashion’s high-resource and high-waste linear economy to a circular one is sorting materials so they can be recycled, enabling the re-use of raw resources.

SMX’s proprietary Intelligence on Things (IOT2) technology marks the molecular matter of raw materials before they are made into textiles and then garments, and embeds deeper than bar codes, QR codes or RFID chips, which are attached only on product packaging. This molecular marking tackles fashion industry’s biggest hurdle of sustainable recycling and reuse.

As SMX’s CEO and Co-founder Haggai Alon pointed out: “Being able to sort out threads – whether they are cotton, linen, polyester or blends – will enable a new equilibrium for a circular economy to thrive: as fibre made into fabric, then fashioned into clothes, can re-enter the economy for reuse and recycling; rather than ending up as waste once they are no longer wanted.”

The cost of fashion

After the oil industry, the fashion industry is the second biggest pollutant. It produces approximately 100 billion garments per year, and is responsible for 8-10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined); contributing to about 20% of industrial water pollution in the world; consuming some 98 million tonnes of oil; producing some 92 million tons of solid waste each year; and releasing 22 million tonnes of plastic microfibres into the ocean from 2015 to 2050 based on current trends.

How SMX’s end-to-end solution will work in the fashion industry

According the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, US$500bn of value is lost every year due to clothing under-utilisation and lack of recycling. This is in large part due to the lack of correct labelling and material identification, which are paramount to accurate sorting of collected goods for recycling.

As textiles tend to be made from a blend of cotton, polyester and other materials, the recycling process is easier and most efficient when treating one type of material, such as polyester – plastic-based fibres that represent 60% of clothing textiles. Efficient recycling technologies rely on accurate material detection and sorting to ensure well-defined material streams (either single material or well-defined combinations of materials including blends).

SMX’s technology – already tested in electronics, minerals and precious metals, agriculture, chemistry and plastics – can invisibly mark raw fibres at a molecular level from the original source across three life cycles: raw material to production, production to commercial, and commercial to recycling and re-use.  

The marking system is embedded in all three life cycles and the numerous, multi-layered data is secured stored on blockchain, a system which provides full transparency.  When SMX-marked garments are collected at a recycling centre, the raw materials can be accurately identified by SMX’s scanner to enable sorting and extraction of high-quality recycled fibres. Pure materials can be recaptured, allowing brand owners to recycle them, resulting in saved money and energy.

SMX’s food-grade, non-radioactive technology was originally developed by Soreq Nuclear Research Centre, an Israeli government research and development institute for nuclear and photonic technologies under the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, and used for security purposes by the Israel Defence Force.

Mr Alon said: “SMX’s mark and trace technology enables an ‘equilibrium economy’ as it covers data across three life cycles and logs the information on blockchain for authentication and proof. We’re tackling a problem that can only be solved now because of our technology and ability to mark different materials (e.g. textile fibres, rubber, plastic, metals, gold, diamonds, etc) at source and detect them in the finished product for greater recycling output quality. With SMX’s equilibrium economy, fashion brand owners can also look at a new business stream, with credible carbon credit claim.”

The additional business benefits for fashion brand owners include the use of SMX technology as an authentication and reputation tool. SMX technology can combat the $1.8tn that global businesses lose to counterfeit goods. Marked raw materials, textiles and finished garments are recorded on blockchain, and allows the company to lodge a credible carbon credit claim. The blockchain platform allows detection of diversion of products as it allows for full traceability of product origin (i.e. authenticated ethical sources) and supply chain history, protecting from product diversion/loss or dilution or substitution.