Primark has installed take-back boxes for clothing, textiles, footwear and bags in all 190 of its UK stores, in a bid to reduce the amount of these items sent to landfill.
Consumers will be able to deposit items from any brand into the boxes. The items will then be sent to Yellow Octopus – a firm which specialises in textile recycling and reuse. Yellow Octopus has said that it will “aim for as many donations as possible to be worn again” and has channels for both reselling the items and donating them to those in need. Profits made from these channels will be donated to UNICEF, Primark’s global charity partner.
Any donated items which are not in a fit condition for rewearing will be downcycled to create products such as insulation, mattress and car set fillers and stuffing for soft toys. Yellow Octopus operates a ‘no landfill’ policy for textiles.
In order to incentivise the use of the recycling scheme, Primark will run its own communications initiatives and Yellow Octopus will add Primark stores to its ReGAIN app. The app uses GPS mapping and tracking to let users know where their nearest clothing take-back or drop-off points are and, as of September 2019, listed more than 20,000 locations. Its users are rewarded with a coupon of their choice for making a clothing donation.
Primark said in a statement that the new initiative builds on its existing commitment to recycle or donate all samples and unsold items, which came into effect in 2010, and its membership of WRAP’s Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) commitment, which helps industry stakeholders work together to transition away from cradle-to-grave business models.
The discount fashion giant has also timed the launch to coincide with campaigns designed to protect charity shops from an influx of donations as lockdown eases, including those run by WRAP.
“We know people don’t always find it easy to recycle their clothes, textiles and shoes – and we know people have had big clear-outs during lockdown,” Primark’s director of ethical trade and environmental sustainability Katharine Stewart said.
“Now is the perfect time to be launching our in-store recycling programme, making it convenient for customers to give a second life to items from their wardrobe that they no longer need. This will reduce waste going to landfill and help our customers to help the environment.”
No time to waste
More and more members of the public have learned of the fashion sector’s sizeable waste problem in recent times, as a result of documentaries like The True Cost and Stacey Dooley Investigates Fast Fashion; political inquiries and the work of campaign groups like Extinction Rebellion and the Clean Clothes Campaign.
The Ellen Macarthur Foundation estimates that a bin lorry full of fashion is landfilled or burned every second, due to a lack of end-of-pipe solutions and saturated resale and rag markets in developing nations.
As such, the expansion of fashion recycling and take-back schemes has been broadly welcomed. H&M recently revealed that it collected 40% more clothing through its in-store network of take-back points last year, surpassing its 2020 goal to collect at least 25,000 tonnes a year ahead of schedule.
But with the production of fashion (more than 100 billion garments and 25 billion pairs of shoes are believed to be manufactured annually) still outpacing mechanical and chemical recycling solutions for textiles, and with many charity shops having to turn away fast fashion items over quality issues or the fact that it costs more to process them than they will make reselling them, it is clear that more must be done to make fashion a truly circular industry.
Other steps which fashion brands are betting on to close the loop include trialling repair, customisation and rental. Recent academic research concluded that the fashion industry will ultimately need to cut its consumption of virgin resources by 75% by 2030, if it is to align with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C trajectory and prevent future resource scarcity challenges.