The foundation set up by the owners of retailer H&M has announced new technology that could boost sustainability in the clothing industry.

The H&M Foundation backed the development of Acousweep which can separate microplastics from wastewater using soundwaves. It can be easily transported and connected to any wastewater facility, such as at factories manufacturing textiles and garments.

It was developed by The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) to find ways to tackle microplastic pollution which threatens ecosystems, animals and people across the world.

Microplastics come from a variety of sources including larger plastic debris that degrades, microbeads in exfoliating health and beauty products, and cleansers such as toothpaste. Between 16% and 35% globally is estimated to come from synthetic textiles including clothing.

Acousweep uses sweeping acoustic waves in a specially shaped chamber to physically trap and separate microplastic fibres from wastewater effectively. No chemical, solvent or biological additives are needed.

The separated microplastics drip into a collection tank for further treatment such as recycling. The existing lab scale treatment system handles 20 litres of water per hour while the upscaled version will be able to treat 5,000 to 10,000 litres of water per hour.

H&M Foundation is privately funded by the Stefan Persson family, founders and main owners of the H&M Group to find, fund and facilitate disruptive innovations, initiatives and research for a socially inclusive and planet-positive textile industry.

Christiane Dolva, strategy lead at H&M Foundation, said: “As a non-profit, we have the urgent opportunity to create change by supporting disruptive research that could lead us there.”

Professor Christine Loh, chief development strategist at the Institute for the Environment at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, agreed that the new technology had great potential. “Acousweep will help the garment and other industries to stop a highly damaging form of pollution.

“HKRITA used a new technique to remove the microplastics by using a soundwave-based system, preventing them from getting into the sea and being ingested by sea life that can even be ingested by humans along the food chain. Acousweep has the capacity to revolutionise industry.”