Closing the loop in the fashion industry

The excesses of our materialistic society is bit by bit exhausting the planet of it's natural resources. 

The world of fashion is by no means clean-handed when it comes to wastefulness. Recently, H&M launched their ‘World Recycle Week’ campaign to raise awareness of clothes recycling, adding to their continued drive for sustainability.

Unknown to most, H&M stores across the globe have been collecting bags of worn or unwanted clothing (of any brand) in exchange for H&M vouchers. They have been doing this since 2013, amassing a total of approximately 22 tonnes of garments. The collected garments are shipped to seven different plants around the world, where they are often sorted to be resold in second-hand markets. Otherwise they can be recycled back into the clothing of H&M brands such as COS, and other stores, Cheap Monday, Monki, and WEEKDAY - which already contains 31% recycled, organic or sustainable cotton, according to their 2015 sustainability report.

This got me thinking about whether a closed loop in the fashion industry could ever be achieved and if so, has it already happened?

Unfortunately, as with any project of this scale, there are considerable obstacles to overcome and issues we must consider.

Some fabrics can’t be completely recycled

Worn out cotton needs to be mixed with virgin cotton so that it’s strong enough for new clothing, and many types of apparel are made from mixed fibres which are tricky to separate or can’t be recycled. Achieving ‘circular textiles’ or a ‘closed loop’ seems unlikely if new garments can only be made from 20% recycled material.

Buy, wear, (recycle) bin, buy more

What’s more, teaching a nation to return old clothes is not easy to implement - so is this method of manufacturing clothes truly sustainable? Since these items are often seen as ‘disposable’, would we see a growth in wasteful attitudes rather than a decline? To avoid this increase, it’s important that we see value in our clothing; a notion at odds with cheap fashion retail that dominates the high street.

Another factor to consider is what happens to the collected clothing that recyclers like H&M don’t want to use. Is it being binned? Or is it passed on for further use?

A design for circularity

Designer and founder of ‘Design for Circularity’, Ina Budde, has come up with an amended concept. Her idea, ‘the extended closed loop’, has been conceived in order to overcome some of the above obstacles and to help us work together. Some of the ecosurety team attended Ina Budde’s talk at resource, the leading resource efficiency event, a few weeks ago, where she discussed attaching labels to garments which you can scan and link up to a computer or phone.

The information about the piece of clothing is then viewed on the screen; what it’s made from, where these materials were sourced, what can be recycled and how. This would help increase the transparency in the industry and make it easier to see the value in the product. Moreover, it would help people gain a better understanding of how each item is recycled once it reaches the sorting plants and recyclers. This labelling idea also nicely compliments an EU regulation that comprises of labelling rules.

A regulatory approach

Many EU textiles regulations are adhered to voluntarily, but in France there is a mandatory textiles legislation for producers. There are two ways in which producers are obligated. Either they have to apply a waste recycling and processing system for a company and it’s customers, or they are obligated to financially contribute to the recycling of the textiles products to an approved body. So could we too consider implementing legislation like this to enforce change and to assist awareness?

The potential

In all there is a lot to be done, and a lot we can already do, we just need to begin applying the changes. With new technologies, transparent forward thinking and with increased enthusiasm, getting closer to this closed loop idea seems much more achievable. And what is more, the more companies that are involved, the bigger the savings could be in the future. Savings in money and savings in resources.

If you are exporting textile products in or to France, you may have an existing obligation. If you think that your company may be affected, contact our team of specialists for more information and support on your textile compliance requirements in France at info@ecosurety.com or call 0845 094 2228.

Kimberley Day

Account manager

Kimberley works closely with our members in her role as an account manager, working hard to ensure they have everything in order to comply with their obligations. Having graduated from the University of Exeter with a Bachelor of Science in Biological and Medicinal Chemistry, Kimberley is without a doubt highly experienced dealing with technical intricacies and processes!

Written by Kimberley Day Published 23/05/2016 Topics Sustainability
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