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John Lewis Wants to Buy Back Old Clothes to Reduce Landfill Waste

John Lewis wants its old clothing back—and it’s willing to pay money for it.

The British department-store chain is piloting a new app-based service that will allow customers to schedule pickups of any John Lewis–purchased garments from their homes. They’ll be paid for each item, regardless of condition.

Currently being trialed with more than 100 John Lewis customers, the effort is a bid to reduce the 300,000 tons of clothing that the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) says ends up in U.K. landfills every year, according Martyn White, sustainability manager at John Lewis.

The average U.K. household owns around 4,000 pounds ($5,300) worth of clothes, according to WRAP. Thirty percent of that languishes unworn in the back of a closet, WRAP said, usually because it no longer fits. 

“’We hope that by making it as easy as we possibly can for customers to pass on clothing that they’re no longer wearing, we can ensure that the maximum life is extracted from items bought from us,” White said.

The app was developed in partnership with Stuffstr, a Seattle-based social enterprise that works to recirculate castoff goods.

Customers can use the app to select the garments they want to sell and find out how much each one is worth. Once they’ve amassed a minimum of 50 pounds ($66) in items, a courier will come calling within three hours. Upon collection, the customer will receive an email with a John Lewis e-gift card for the value of the items they have sold. John Lewis will then sell the clothing, repair it so they can be resold or recycle them into new products, White said.

“If the concept proves successful the next stage will be to offer an option for customers to donate the money to charity,” he added.

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Take-back programs aren’t new to John Lewis. In 2017, the retailer reused around 27,000 electrical products and 2,000 used sofas. It also reclaimed materials from roughly 55,000 mattresses.

“’We already take back used sofas, beds and large electrical items such as washing machines and either donate them to charity, or reuse and recycle parts and want to offer a service for fashion products,” White said.

Francois Souchet, who leads the Make Fashion Circular initiative at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, praised John Lewis and Stuffstr for using technology to shift the apparel industry’s take-make-dispose model to a more circular, less wasteful one. 

In November, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation reported that landfilling clothing and textiles costs the U.K. economy around 82 million pounds ($108 million) per year.

“Creating a circular economy for fashion requires unprecedented levels of collaboration and new business models harnessing the power of digital technology,” Souchet said. “We hope that this collaboration between Stuffstr and John Lewis will encourage other innovators to design out waste.”