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H&M’s Global Recycling Program: Fashion Genius or Fashion Gaffe?

H&M, the now international Swedish retail chain synonymous with trendy (and cheap) clothing is trying to update their look. Recently the brand has been implementing new practices to reduce their environmental impact and appear more sustainable. These practices include increasing their use of organic cotton (they are now the largest user of organic cotton in the world) and pledging to not discharge hazardous chemicals into the environment. Last week H&M made an announcement about their newest campaign,starting in February 2013 H&M will begin collecting used clothes in their stores as part of a global clothing drive.

H&M’s clothing drive will be the first Worldwide Drive, taking  place in  48 markets world wide. According to H&M, as much as 95% of clothes that end up in landfills every year could be re-worn, reused, or recycled. By collecting used clothes in their stores H&M hopes to provide a convenient way to extend the lifecycle of use clothing. In return for bringing in their used clothes donators will receive a voucher for H&M for each bag of clothes donated.

Collected clothing will go to H&M’s partner, I:Co, another Swedish company that collects used clothes in Europe. I:Co will sort the clothes based on their condition.Clothes in good condition will be handed over to thrift shops; worn garments will be recycled into towels or napkins; poor condition material will be recovered for the textile industry; and the remainder will be directed to bio gas ventures. 

So is H&M’s global clothing drive ecologic genius?

According to an article on Triple Pundit ,H&M’s program’s smart but not perfect.

When considering the carbon footprint of a piece of clothing the most important factor in a garment’s lifecycle is it’s use phase, in particular the cleaning of the item. This is not saying that H&M’s program will not have a carbon impact. Reusing materials will  substantially reduce the carbon footprint during the manufacturing phase for reused materials. A recent study found that using polyester and cotton reduces the energy use in both cases by more than 97 percent compared to using virgin materials.

The other issue with H&M’s drive is whether providing an incentive  to “donate” used clothes undermines the message of sustainability. By providing a voucher, H&M is encouraging buyers to replace their wardrobes , instead of just getting rid of clothes they don’t want or need.

Will the option to “sustainably” dispose of unwanted clothes result in increased clothing “consumption” by people who choose to participate in the program? Or will it educate millions of people around the world about the importance of sustainability in manufacturing and impact consumption?

Woman With Clothes via Shutterstock

 

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

Thursday, December 13th, 2012 at 15:24

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