Be a model producer - finding a way for fashion waste

The Environmental Audit Committee has put forward recommendations for the Government to introduce a Producer Responsibility system for new clothing. With this in mind, clothing retailers and brand owners should look to implement clothing return schemes sooner rather than later. Emily Hare, Waste and Resource Traceability Manager, provides some guidance and advice in her latest Blog.

My previous blog “Undressing the problem: Wastage in the fashion industry” covered some of the impacts textiles and fibre waste has on the environment and human health, and how certain groups within the fashion industry are taking steps to address these issues.

In this Blog I will discuss in more detail some of things brand owners and retailers should consider when looking to implement clothing return schemes to reduce their environmental impact.

EU Circular Economy Package

The EU Circular Economy Package, which was published in June 2018, is looking to introduce household collections for textiles by 2025. However, that doesn’t mean businesses operating within the fashion industry should wait until this enforced to take action. All clothing retailers and Brands should already be looking to introduce takeback schemes to help consumers sustainably dispose of unwanted clothes and ensure that they are reused or recycled. The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) have already put forward recommendations for the Government to introduce a Producer Responsibility system for new clothing.

Taking it back

For many consumer products, takeback is one of the best-known solutions for collecting high quality material, whether that is batteries, waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) or drinks containers. Within the fashion industry, some companies, for example Marks & Spencer and H&M, offer instore takeback for their customers. H&M has reported that they have collected 45,000 tonnes since 2013 and are looking to increase this figure to 25,000 tonnes annually by 2020.

There are a lot of things to consider when introducing a takeback model, such as:

  • Aims
  • Consumer communications
  • Logistics
  • End markets
  • Tracking collections

Let’s explore each of these in more detail…

What is the aim?

Before introducing a takeback scheme, your business needs to consider what it hopes to achieve. Does the business want to increase consumer awareness on how to responsibly discard unwanted clothing? Is the business looking to improve recycling collections for consumers? Perhaps it is looking to improve overall recycling rates, or is looking to create new clothes from recycled clothing to increase the percentage of recycled content?

Whatever a business’s aim is the next steps are crucial to ensuring a schemes success.


Communication is key to encourage and inform consumers about the benefits of any recycling and reuse scheme and is vital to ensure its success. Best laid plans won’t succeed if consumers are unaware that the scheme exists. As part of recycling communications, it is important to highlight the impact consumers have by returning unwanted clothing, as they tend to feel incentivised to reuse and recycle more if they are aware that their actions are making a difference.

Also, staff need to have a thorough understanding of how the scheme works and its aims, so they can help customers and help to promote the benefits.


Planning logistics and outlining different scenarios for how a scheme will perform will help prevent hiccups during the beginning phases. If the business operates stores where consumers will bring old clothing, how the stores will handle these items will need to be considered. The easiest option would be to return the items to the business’s distribution centres, where collections from various stores can be bulked before they are sent to reprocessors for sorting and recycling.

If your business only has a presence online, you could consider using the business’s returns network to enable consumers to return old clothing. Return infrastructure should already be in place for new clothing; therefore, you could look to create a new section for old clothing. If this isn’t an option perhaps the business could partner with other retailers?

End markets

Logistics and end markets are linked, as businesses will need to find organisations that will sort takeback clothing and will also need to carry out research to find out what treatment processes are available, as well as find acceptable end markets. Linking back to aims, if a business wishes to increase recycled content within new fabrics it will need to link takeback clothing recyclers with raw material suppliers. Doing so may take some time to plan and implement, to ensure fabrics retain level of quality, but it will demonstrate a true shift to circular economy.

Clothing collected will consist of a variety of qualities. Some clothes could be re-sold; however, other items will only be good enough to provide energy recovery and everything in between. It is important to have routes agreed beforehand to ensure the right treatments take place and the facilities are operating under ethical practices to meet your business’s obligations and policies.

Tracking your collections – Valpak can help

Once a takeback scheme is ready to launch, the remaining thing to consider is how the business will keep on top of it once it’s up and running. How will the business know what’s been collected and where the clothing has gone? Is the scheme working?

Investing in a tracking system will provide transparency on how a scheme is performing, as well as legitimacy when reporting the scheme’s progress. Valpak’s Waste Tracker service has been designed to answer these questions. It will link with recyclers to collect information on clothing collected from distribution centres, validate the information provided and upload it to an online platform that allows users to see progress via a reporting dashboard. The information can be used to report progress internally and provides users with confidence to share it publicly, as they will know if has been reviewed by a third party.

If you would like further information on our Waste Trackers services and how we help you to manage your takeback scheme, please call 03450 682 572 or email me at [email protected]