Look Sharp: H&M Launches Clothing Collection Initiative

Here's a fashion trend we can all get behind

The average American throws away an estimated 68 pounds of clothing every year, but 99 percent of that trash can be recycled. According to the Council for Textile Recycling, an estimated 1.3 million tons of clothing textiles—fabrics like cotton, wool, leather, nylon, rayon and polyester—were recovered for recycling in 2009. It may seem like a lot, but that's just a fraction of the more than 13 million tons of textile trash that was generated in 2010, representing about 5.3 percent of total municipal solid waste (MSW) generation.


What can be done with all the discarded clothes? According to the EPA:

"Some recovered textiles become wiping and polishing cloths. Cotton can be made into rags or form a component for new high-quality paper. Knitted or woven woolens and similar materials are 'pulled' into a fibrous state for reuse by the textile industry in low-grade applications, such as car insulation or seat stuffing. Other types of fabric can be reprocessed into fibers for upholstery, insulation, and even building materials. Buttons and zippers are stripped off for reuse. Very little is left over at the end of the recycling process. The remaining natural materials, such as various grades of cotton, can be composted."

The Bureau of International Recycling (BIR)—founded in 1948 as the first federation to promote the global recycling industry—calculates that if all of the 60 million citizens of the United Kingdom purchased just a single reclaimed wool garment each year, it would save an average of 1,686 million liters of water and 480 metric ton of chemical dyes.


Now, thanks to a new initiative by the Swedish clothing retailer H&M, you'll have an easy way to make sure your used clothing doesn't end up in a landfill: Just drop it off at selected stores across all of the company's 48 markets in Asia, Europe, North America, South America, the Middle East and North Africa.

With their announcement of this new program, H&M has become the first fashion company to launch a global clothes collecting initiative. The retailer will hand off the collected clothes to their partner, I:Collect, which provides a system to reprocess consumer goods, starting with clothing bins near the checkout area at H&M stores. The program launches in February 2013, and they'll take any clothing made by any manufacturer. And if being a more green consumer isn't enough of an enticement to participate, you'll get a discount voucher for an in-store purchase.

"Our sustainability efforts are rooted in a dedication to social and environmental responsibility," said Karl-Johan Persson, H&M's CEO. We want to do good for the environment, which is why we are now offering our customers a convenient solution: to be able to leave their worn out or defective garments."


"Long-term, H&M wants to reduce the environmental impact of garments throughout the lifecycle and create a closed loop for textile fibres," according to a company statement. "The aim is to find technical solutions to reuse and recycle textile fibres on a larger scale, which is why H&M has set up its Conscious Foundation: to support innovation on closing the loop on textiles and social projects along H&M's value chain."

Founded with a donation from H&M of SEK 60 million (USD 9 million), the Conscious Foundation was set up in 2007 to coincide with the company's 60th anniversary. Its goal is to support projects that improve the lives of those residing in the countries where H&M operates.

The foundation has donated funds to a variety of social organizations in recent years, such as Hand in Hand, a charitable trust in Tamil Nadu, India, that is working to eradicate extreme poverty through education and empowerment; the Save the Children's Centre for Children's Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility (CCRCSR) in China, which helps businesses in and around China to address the issue of children’s rights; and the FRANK Water Project, a charity based in the United Kingdom that provides access to clean water for the poorest communities around the world.


H&M's clothing collection announcement follows their recent commitment to remove perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) from their products, with the ban to go into effect on January 1. These ubiquitous pollutants don't degrade easily, and have been found in the Arctic, in food and in almost all of the human blood samples that have been tested. The decision to ban PFCs came after Greenpeace released their 2011 "Dirty Laundry" report that found a range of toxins throughout the supply chains of several major clothing retailers.

By cleaning up the toxins in their new clothing, recycling used clothing and giving back to communities around the globe, H&M has made some powerful fashion statements that will never go out of style. Fashion retailers that don't "follow suit" suddenly seem like a shabby fit.



Lexa W. Lee. Recycled Clothing Facts. Demand Media via National Geographic. Accessed December 20, 2012.
Environmental Protection Agency. Textiles Common Wastes & Materials. EPA.gov. November 19, 2012. Accessed December 20, 2012.
Bureau of International Recycling. Textiles. bir.org. May 23, 2010. Accessed December 20, 2012.
Connie Wang. Trade In Your Old Clothes To H&M For In-Store Discounts. Refinery29.com. December 6, 2012. Accessed December 20, 2012.
H&M. H&M first fashion company to launch global clothes collecting initiative. hm.com. December 6, 2012. Accessed December 20, 2012.
H&M. Conscious Foundation. hm.com. January 19, 2012. Accessed December 19, 2012.
Jasmin Malik Chua. H&M Bans Toxic Perfluorinated Compounds From Clothing Line. Ecouterre.com. September 4, 2012. Accessed December 19, 2012.
Greenpeace. Dirty Laundry: Unravelling the corporate connections to toxic water pollution in China. July 13, 2011. Accessed December 19, 2012.

image credit: Nicolettemayer, Wikimedia Commons)