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We’re all using more resources than is advisable for the health of our planet, and our wardrobes are no exception. As much as 95 percent of clothes thrown away could have been reworn or recycled.

Recycling your clothes with a retailer helps reduce the natural resources they need to make new garments. That’s why, in 2013, H&M (in cooperation with I:CO) launched a global garment collecting initiative. You can drop off your unwanted clothes and home textiles— any brand, any condition — to any of their stores worldwide.

Closing the loop

Nearly 150 million tons of clothing and shoes are sold worldwide every year. After being carried, 85 percent of them land on landfills or are burnt instead of flowing back into product and material cycles. The reasons for this are a lack of consumer awareness and a lack of collective structures in many countries. We’re reaching our limits, and we have to be committed to changing the “take—make—dispose” system of fashion, which is why H&M has committed that by 2030 all of the clothing in their stores will come from sustainable sources.

So, is there a solution that is sustainable, workable and economic?

“Closing the loop” on garment recycling achieves this. Instead of heading for landfills, excessive clothing and shoes circulate in a closed loop of product and material and are used repeatedly for the production of new products. The newly developed take-back system brings this vision step by step into reality and is already successfully used by many other companies.

The three cycles

Since H&M launched their garment collecting initiative, they’ve gathered more than 32,000 tons of garments to give them a new life. That number equals more fabric than in 100 million t-shirts.

Once your old garments are dropped off, they’re collected and sorted into three categories: rewear (clothing that can be worn again to sold second-hand), reuse (old clothes and textiles to be turned into other products, such as cleaning cloths) and recycle (everything else, to be turned into textile fibers).

Garments can already be made of 100 percent recycled material when using previously recycled material such as polyester. However, as of right now, one garment contains up to 20 percent recycled fibers (cotton or wool) without any reduction in quality or durability. That number can increase by creating demand and investing directly into technological innovation. The ultimate goal is to find a technological solution to be able to fully reuse and recycle all donated textile fiber, but the immediate task at hand is to minimize the risks of fashion ending up in the dump.

Good for everyone

Surplus textiles are donated and split between recycling projects (developing technologies to recycle clothes made from textile blends into new clothes) and social projects (focused on equality and inclusion of marginalized groups).

When you participate in the program, you receive a coupon for 15 percent off your next purchase. Also, for every 2.2 pounds of clothes collected, $0.02 will be donated to a charity local to your country. In the United States, that’s Global Green USA, a humanitarian environmental group dedicated to helping the places, the people and the planet in need through projects and policy.

Knowing about how much ends up in the landfill throws new light onto fashion, and no true fashion lover ever likes seeing clothes go to waste. That’s why H&M wants to make it as easy as possible for customers to give their garments a new life and help them “close the loop.” Drop off whatever clothes or textiles you no longer want or need and give them a new purpose for working towards a more sustainable fashion future.

Adam Sass, [email protected]

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