Even if consumers don’t physically place their old clothing in the garbage, used garments still wind up in landfills—and they’re piling up at an astronomical rate.
Consumers are likely familiar with at least one ominous statistic regarding the severity of the clothing waste epidemic—the average American discards 81 pounds of clothes each year; one garbage truck of clothing is burned or landfilled every second—but they’re probably not aware that the way they’ve been donating or selling their used clothing is actually part of the problem.
Overwhelmed national charities like Goodwill and the Salvation Army often have no other choice than to either ship excess inventory overseas, where it’s sold, or send it to a landfill. Also, because they can’t sell damaged products, those items are automatically disposed.
So how can consumers responsibly discard their used clothing? A number of brands have adopted textile recycling programs that work with facilities equipped with the appropriate resources for turning used fabric into new garments. The third-party companies they work with are able to properly separate items and significantly lower their chances of ending up in landfills.
To acknowledge the eco-minded mission of America Recycles Day on Nov. 15, we rounded up some of the most established recycling programs at well-known brands—some of which even have incentives for shoppers.
A clothing company built on sustainable practices, Reformation launched its recycling program, RefRecycling, in 2014. The brand does most of its business online, and its recycling program reflects that.
Customers can recycle old clothes by printing out a shipping label they can pull from their online profile and adding it to a box filled with the clothes they want to recycle. Then, they can drop it off at the nearest post office or schedule a home pick-up. From there, Reformation gives users total transparency into their recycling process: Customers can log in to their profile, look up the label number and track their shipment to see where their items end up.
Kathleen Talbot, Reformation’s vice president of operations and sustainability, told Rivet the program has been a major success. The brand’s goal for 2019 was to reuse or recycle at least 100,000 garments, and at the end of September, it had already hit 311,361 garments. That’s the equivalent to saving 2,462 metric tons of CO2, 24 million gallons of water and 194 metric tons of waste.
In 2014, Levi’s launched its clothing recycling initiative in partnership with global solutions provider I:CO to accept clothing and shoes in any condition in exchange for 10 percent off their Levi’s purchase.
More recently, the brand partnered with Cotton’s Blue Jeans Go Green program to create a more enticing offer for denim contributions: Shoppers can bring in denim from any brand and receive 20 percent off any one Levi’s item. The donated fabric will be recycled and used as material for building insulation, a portion of which will go toward constructing libraries, hospitals and schools. Levi’s offers the program at its mainline and outlet stores in the U.S. and Canada.
Another brand dedicated to making the most out of used denim, Madewell also partners with the Blue Jeans Go Green program to turn recycled denim into insulation for housing projects. It accepts denim from any brand in exchange for $20 off a new pair of Madewell jeans, and donation boxes are available in stores globally. Since the partnership began in 2014, more than 716,000 pairs of jeans have been collected from Madewell stores.
H&M Group’s garment collection program began in 2013, and has since collected 78,000 tons of clothing through customer donations at stores around the world. Shoppers can bring in any textiles in any condition—everything from worn out sheets to ratty T-shirts are accepted—in exchange for 15 percent off their next in-store purchase. Textiles are sent to a facility that separates them into categories: rewear, reuse and recycle. From there, they’re either sold as secondhand goods, converted into other garments, or broken down into textile fibers to manufacture other products.
Zara offers a clothing collection program that accepts clothes in all conditions at select stores. Currently, it also offers home pick-up for certain customers in Spain, Beijing and Shanghai.
When finalizing an online order, these customers have the opportunity to request complimentary pickup on a box of used clothing the same day the customer’s new items are delivered. Used clothing is then either donated, recycled, transformed into new fabric or sold to finance the participating nonprofits’ projects. Items are properly separated accordingly to ensure optimal use.
The North Face
As The North Face targets a demographic of people who love the outdoors, it only makes sense that the brand would also be dedicated to sustainability and recycling. In 2013, it launched its Clothes the Loop program, which encourages people to recycle unwanted clothing and footwear by dropping them off at The North Face Retail and Outlet stores. In exchange, customers receive a $10 reward toward their next purchase of $100 or more.
Since the program started, it has expanded to new markets and collected more than 125,000 pounds of used items. The company is committed to growing the program globally and keeping as much clothing as possible from ending up in landfills.