Brands stepping up to the plate with textile waste

Money makes the world go round, and this is also true in sustainability issues. Brands have the resources to make a huge difference in solving one of the planet’s biggest waste problems: textiles. Although they also play a big role in creating it, as it turns out, brands are often the only ones taking initiative in solving it.

We all have those worn-out, broken clothes lying around – with two kids, I certainly do. I wanted to find out what my local chances of recycling unusable textile waste are, instead of putting them into my mixed waste for the local energy company to burn. In Finland, taking textile waste to landfills is not allowed, so burning for energy is a lesser evil.

Burning is not the answer

According to various studies on overall environmental impact, burning textiles for energy (and emissions) is not the most ecological option. With a quick study, I found that retailers are the only places to take unwanted, broken textiles in my area.

I started from the other end of the cycle. I called my local recycling center that I thought used to process textile waste and deliver it to reuse of some kind. They gave vague answers along the lines of “depends on what material it is” and finally admitted they accept no rags. I then called the local landfill who’s very active in giving advice in sorting issues. Their answer was “you can sort that in mixed waste and it will be burned for energy”. Okay great.

Brands taking action

Then it hit me; a sign I had seen at Lindex, something about reusing and recycling. With a quick round of calls and websites I found that Lindex, KappAhl and H&M are the only places in my area that accept unusable textiles and arrange an industrial reuse for them.

In return, they give you discount coupons, which is questionable, as sensible consumption of textiles is the best way to be sustainable. But at least brands are taking action, unlike my community – shocking really. Brands have the interface towards the consumer who is increasingly aware, as well as the logistic and financial resources to close the cycle.

We are the circular economy

Not many people know that old clothes have a lot of reuse potential; over half of all clothing can be taken into use again in some form. What cannot be reused is recycled, i.e. made into new textiles, although there isn’t much infrastructure for this.

However, a mere 3% of all textile waste is so unusable that it must be disposed in energy waste. In other words, this huge waste problem could be majorly mitigated. This calls for a completely transparent system of reuse and recycle, and a lot of communications and marketing from brands so that consumers realize they have this option.

However, much like with the newly founded plastics recycling system in Finland, if there isn’t a sufficient amount of material to reuse and recycle, this doesn’t work. Circular economy is not something that runs on its own. There is no circular economy without the masses who create it.

P.S. Brands who excel in reuse and recycling have my vote the next time I take my sensible consumption somewhere.

Emmi Berlin