Today marks the first day of Spring. It is that time of the year when we start to get closer to longer, sunnier days and we are naturally drawn to decluttering our wardrobes. For this blog I wanted to focus on how we can reduce our waste going to landfill when clearing out clothes. I recently came across a number of initiatives being run by big brands, which I feel are appropriate to this blog when discussing how our personal choices can reduce negative environmental and social impacts.
We’ve all heard about the environmental and social impacts of fast fashion. Not only have we become a nation of instant buy and dispose, we’ve become accustomed to wanting items at the click of a button. Pinterest and Instagram, for example, are used by millions of people globally to fulfill their instant shopping requirement. While some do not put much thought into what they are buying, many have started to become more aware of their shopping habits and what impulse buying has meant for the environment, thanks to documentaries, such as, Blue Planet and Fashion’s Dirty Secret.
If you’ve been following my blog, you will notice that I have recently been blogging about the UNs Sustainable Development Goals, known as SDGs. I will naturally relate this blog to the SDGs, in the hope that my readers will see why we need to consider how our shopping and disposal habits affect the environment.
There are a total of 17 goals that have been published by the UN. Each goal has a purpose of leading to overall sustainable development by 2030. Our clothes have an impact on a number of these goals, particularly, SDG 12, Responsible Production and Consumption. As the world’s population increases, the competition for resources and space will continue to increase. SDG 12 aims to reduce our reliance on natural resources by becoming more efficient, decreasing waste through reuse, recycle and decreasing consumption. For example, to produce our clothes, factories will use energy, water and resources to make cotton, wool, silk, buttons, zips, threads etc. The clothes are then delivered by ship, planes, vans etc, all contributing to air and water emissions. When we are done with them we need to dispose them. If not disposed correctly, our clothes will end up in landfill.
Whilst many will sort their clothes and take to them a local charity shop or sell them online, there are yet many who will bag them and dispose them. The result? Depending on where you live, these clothes will either end up in landfill, incinerated or burned to make refuse derived fuel.
In the sustainability field there is a concept known as circular economy that has recently taken precedence. The idea behind circular economy is to minimise use of natural materials at the source and to use what comes into the market for as long as possible so as to avoid single use disposal.
As consumers we too have a key role to play in circular economy. We buy items, therefore we should shop more responsibly and then use the most appropriate methods to dispose the items when we are done. Clothing is one item that works quite well in a circular economy. They can be used and reused for many years without having to be disposed as general waste. Giving them to charity, selling them on platforms such as EBay are a great way to ensure that clothes continue to be reused.
There are new players who have joined the marketplace in the last 2 to 3 years, all wanting a piece of the clothes disposal market. What pleasantly surprised me is the initiatives being undertaken by mainstream retailers.
H&M have been a pioneer in this field. Not only do they have a ‘conscious brand’ they also started collecting clothes for recycling across their stores in 2013. What I like about H&M is that they will accept clothes of any brand not just what you buy from their stores. The clothes are sorted into rewear, reuse or recycle. In exchange you get a 10% thank you treat, which I’m assuming means 10% off your shopping bill.
Last year, John Lewis decided to introduce a trial to reduce clothing waste via a buy-back scheme. The scheme was being piloted with 100 customers, allowing them to return unwanted clothes purchased in its stores in the last five years. In return, customers would receive an e-gift card. Clothing sent back would be resold or recycled. I have not heard anything since its conception about a year ago, but it’s worth looking into if you are an avid John Lewis customer.
M&S run a scheme calling Shwopping in partnership with Oxfam. You can put any unwanted clothes into their swop drop boxes located in their stores. In return you will receive Sparks points. The clothing is then taken away by Oxfam, sorted, sold for reuse globally or then recycled for reuse in other products. You can also take them directly to an Oxfam store.
Zara has recently launched a clothes collection program which is available at selected stores. Like the rest, you’ll need to take your items to one of the stores, unless you live in Spain, in which case a free pick up service from home is available. The items of clothing are donated for recycling, reuse, and resale to non-profit organisations. Zara is also collaborating on R&D projects to develop new fibres from used cotton.
A number of new apps have also emerged on the ethical fashion scene including a wave of apps which focus on selling and swapping of unwanted items, thus making the process seamless at the click of a button. Of course, online platforms such as EBay still play a pivotal role in our day to day of trading second-hand items, but it’s worth noting that the options for how to get rid of our unwanted clothes is steadily growing. Players such as the reGAIN app, Gone for good app and Retrospecced are teaming up with retailers to make the transition of unwanted clothing and accessories easy from your home into reuse and recycle by partnering up with charities.
So this Spring when you are considering disposal of clothing and accessories, think about all the different services available to you that will make it easier to recycle your clothes. It’s a bit more effort than placing them in the general waste bins, but it’s worth it. Also be sure to look into buying resale clothing to keep the circular economy turning.
*Did you know?
- 1,130,000 tonnes of clothing was purchased in the UK in 2016
- The carbon footprint of clothing in use in the UK was 26.2 million tonnes CO2e in 2016
- 1kg of cotton is created using an average of 10,000-20,000 litres of water
- 800,000 t of process waste from the UK clothing demand
This month, I teamed up with a group of bloggers writing about an area that they are passionate about and relating it to the month of March. It’s a great idea when we get to collaborate with other bloggers. Please take some time to read their blogs.