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Clothing retailers face increasing pressure to recycle

According to Yale Environment 360, Americans dispose of about 12.8m tons of textiles annually. But a growing number of environmentalists and clothing retailers say it’s time to begin making new clothes out of old items on a large scale.

Recycling has become a rallying cry in the apparel industry, with H&M as its most vocal evangelist. The Swedish firm launched a €1m contest to seek out ideas for turning old clothes into new, invested in Worn Again, a company that is developing textile recycling technology.

“We have to change how fashion is made,” Karl-Johan Persson, the chief executive officer of H&M, has said. “We have to go from a linear model to a circular model, and we have to do it at scale.”

It’s not just H&M. American Eagle Outfitters, Eileen Fisher, Levi-Strauss & Co, Nike, The North Face, Patagonia, and Zara all collect old garments and shoes in their stores, in some cases taking clothes from any manufacturer.

SEE ALSO: Recycling – fashion world’s antidote to environmental concerns

Startups Ambercycle, Dutch Awareness, and Evrnu are developing chemical processes to take cotton, polyester, or blended apparel and transform them into new fibers. “Our ultimate goal is to harvest our raw materials from our consumers’ closets,” says Michael Kobori, vice president of sustainability at Levi Strauss.

The textile industry has long been one of China’s biggest polluters, and it has fouled rivers and ruined farmland in India, Cambodia, and Bangladesh, as well.

Consumer behavior is one obstacle. Most people don’t bring their old clothes back to stores, despite incentives. In the US, H&M, Levi-Strauss, and The North Face have offered a variety of discounts, sometimes for as much as 20% on future purchases, but they are collecting far, far fewer clothes than they sell, executives admit.

Yet, after several years of research, Worn Again joined forces with H&M and the Puma division of Kering to develop chemical processes that will capture polyester and cotton from old textiles that have been broken down to the molecular level.

A partnership between Levi Strauss and Seattle-based startup Evrnu recently brought forth the world’s first pair of jeans made of post-consumer cotton waste.

(Source: The Guardian)