The Truth About HM's Recycling Initiative

by: Well Made Clothes Staff | 11 months ago | News

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Over recent years fast fashion conglomerate H&M has been aggressively marketing itself as a sustainability leader – with collections dubbed ‘conscious’ and a commitment to using sustainable materials all splashed in the media. Perhaps the most prominent of these initiatives is the brand’s garment recycling initiative – but how responsible is it really? Public Radio International [PRI] recently investigated this very question and their results may surprise you.

According to PRI, H&M works in collaboration with global recycling company I:CO, which picks up donated clothes from 4,500 H&M stores and takes them to sorting plants around the world. In Europe, for example, they go to a plant near Leipzig in Germany, where clothes are reportedly moved around in bags suspended from the ceiling and then sorted into roughly 400 different categories.

“Around 60 percent goes to re-wear, so secondhand and vintage,” explains Catarina Midby, sustainability manager at H&M UK and Ireland. “What cannot be re-worn will be reused and repurposed for things like cleaning cloths, insulation for houses and cars and other products.” But only 5-10% of collected clothing is recycled into fibres that can ultimately be made into new clothes. The remainder is “downcycled” into lower-value products such as insulation. This is partly because textiles are mechanically shredded when they are recycled, which shortens and weakens the fibres.

But one has to ask just how sustainable it is for a fast fashion company to produce as many clothing items as H&M does and then try to make up for it through recycling? Of course it is excellent that H&M has collected 56,000 tons of textiles globally – the equivalent of roughly 260 million T-shirts – since launching its garment recycling program in 2013. But considering that an estimate by University of Delaware fashion industry expert Sheng Lu suggests the company may have sold as many as 1.3 billion pieces of clothing last year alone, this is just barely scratching the surface.



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