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Circular Solutions in Action: Retailers, Recyclers Collaborate to Fight Textile Waste

Image credit: H&M

Textile waste is a 26-billion-pound problem the world is just beginning to recognize. With us consuming more than 80 billion pieces of new clothing each year globally, there’s no question that change is necessary – but what will it take for retailers, clothing manufacturers and consumers to embrace the environmental benefits of reuse?

Preliminary steps toward a circular textile economy are taking place, such as Patagonia’s Worn Wear program and H&M’s Garment Collecting initiative, but the goal of “closing the loop” is still barrier-ridden for many brands. One of the largest challenges for brands is a lack of technology to recycle frequently used fiber blends in most apparel. Another barrier for brands seeking to embrace closed-loop textile systems is consumer preference: While many shoppers talk about wanting more sustainably produced clothing, they don’t always buy it, as the desire for affordable fashion that also meets fit and feel expectations tends to outweigh the desire for eco-friendly clothing. In order for change to take place in the textile industry, more collaboration needs to happen within product design, retail, collection, reuse and recycling sectors.  

Today, each stakeholder focuses on extracting the highest value within its limited position in the value stream of a textile item, but we must move towards industry collaboration in order to redesign an industrywide model that drives a viable, more circular value stream. As the Vice President of Reuse and Recycling at Savers®, I’ve had the opportunity over the past 15 years to implement and expand an effective, socially conscious business model that’s illustrative of the power of collaboration and reuse.

Upon joining the Savers family and examining the product that lands on the shelves of our 330 store locations, my team and I recognized that desire for these same products exists all over the world – and so do opportunities to divert these products from entering the waste stream. To date, we have worked to identify reuse partners and opportunities for products in over 35 countries. In fact, we even discovered a market demand for single shoes, where through a remarkable process, 50 percent of these shoes collected find an exact match and can be reused.

When we work together to find solutions to unique problems, the opportunities to collaborate for a circular model are inspiring — and results-driven. Another example is the partnership between the textile recycling startup Evrnu and Levi Strauss & Co. to create the first pair of 511 jeans made from post-consumer cotton waste. Partnerships such as these not only further the development of technology to recycle textiles, but also help create consumer demand for more sustainably produced clothing.

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With much work to be done, the road ahead presents stakeholders with the challenge to think bigger. For example, while Nike has broken down shoes into rubber for playground flooring in the past and adidas is creating shoes from ocean plastic, what if Nike’s swooshes were comprised of recycled denim and adidas’ stripes were comprised of recycled leather? Innovative opportunities to further a circular economy abound – but much like the example of our single-shoe-reuse partner, it is up to industry players to work together to find them.

The sooner we embrace cross-industry collaboration to tackle the issue of textile waste, the sooner the world will benefit from the power of reuse.

As the Vice President of Recycling and Reuse at Value Village, Tony Shumpert oversees the recycling business operations for Savers (locally known as Value Village), a purpose-driven thrift retailer with nearly 330 stores across the U.S., Canada and… [Read more about Tony Shumpert]

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