Companies Saving Unwanted Clothes From Ending Up In Landfills

Textile waste is a huge problem. In just the U.S. alone, 25 million pounds of textiles are created every year. That is about 82 pounds per person. Only 15 percent is donated or recycled, and the rest ends up in landfills. The amount that isn’t recycled is about 21 billion pounds, and is over 5.2 percent of municipal solid waste generated in the U.S.

Some companies are working to address the problem. One of them is Project Repat, which takes old, unwanted t-shirts and sweatshirts and turns them into quilts or pillows. Customers send in their old tee shirts and sweatshirts to create a customized quilt or pillow. The company began in Nairobi, Kenya where co-founder Ross Lohr happened to be doing non-profit education work. While sitting in a traffic jam for two hours, Lohr saw a Kenyan man wearing a tee shirt that proclaimed, “I Danced My Ass Off at Josh’s Bar Mitzvah.” That’s where he came up with the idea to have tee shirts recycled and made into new products.

Project Repat has over 110,000 customers. Since the company’s launch, it has kept over five million tee shirts from ending up in landfills. And it has created fair wage jobs in the U.S. The backing in the quilts are made with PolarTec fleece which is manufactured from recycled plastic bottles. Every yard of PolarTec fleece is from 23 recycled plastic bottles. 

Outdoor clothing companies have take back programs

Two outdoor clothing companies have take back programs for unwanted clothing. Those companies are Patagonia and the North Face. Patagonia’s take back program is called Worn Wear and through it, customers can return their old, used up Patagonia products to either one of the company’s stores or mail it in. 

The North Face’s take back program is called Clothes the Loop, and it goes farther than Patagonia’s program, as it allows customers to return clothing and shoes from any brand to one of its stores and receive $10 toward their next purchase of $100 or more. Since the start of the program, over 30,000 pounds of clothing and shoes have been brought into U.S. stores. This year, the North Face is expanding its program to Canada and Germany.

Clothing companies aim for circular business models

Swedish fast fashion giant, H&M was the first fashion company to start a take back program. Their program is global and allows customers to bring in clothes from any brand to any of its stores. Since the program’s launch in 2013, it has received over 22,000 tons of clothing, which equals the fabric in 100 million tee shirts. But the company wants to go even further. It has a goal of becoming 100 percent circular. That would include using only recycled or other materials sourced sustainably and taking a circular approach to both how its products are manufactured and how they are used.

Levi Strauss & Co., the iconic maker of blue jeans, also has a take back program that allows customers to bring unwanted clothes and shoe from any brand into its stores. It also desires to become 100 percent circular by 2020. To the company, that means designing products from a cradle-to-cradle approach rather than a cradle-to-grave approach. Its Wellthread pilot in 2014 serves as a good example. Its designers created a 100 percent recyclable cotton fiber and made tops, outerwear and pants from the fiber. 

Photo: Project Repat