Resources charity WRAP has predicted that the in-store takeback of clothing will undergo a “renaissance” when lockdown restrictions are lifted.
As a result, the charity has published a best practice guidance for retailers in order to deliver an “effective” retailer-led collection scheme for post-consumer clothes.
Currently, WRAP says that around 2% of people chose to donate clothes by taking them back to retailers, with many choosing “more established methods” such as textile banks or charity shops.
However, WRAP says its research suggests that UK citizens are set to dispose of 67 million items of clothing as UK comes out of lockdown, with a third of people having a “lockdown clearance” of clothes.
Dr David Moon, head of business collaboration at WRAP, said: “This guide will help businesses implement successful take back schemes that allow their customers to easily donate unwanted clothing. Last summer, post-lockdown, over half of the people we surveyed had a clear out of clothing. We know that citizens would much rather recycle, donate, or re-sell their unwanted items, so take back schemes are going to be imperative to people being able to donate promptly once the shops re-open”.
“Take back schemes are going to be imperative to people being able to donate promptly once the shops re-open”
The guide examines the options available to retailers who wish to roll out a takeback scheme, sharing several industry examples.
For in-store garment collection programmes, retailers can partner either with a commercial collector or with a charity. In both cases, the sorting of collected textiles and transfer to re-use and recycling destinations will also be undertaken by the collection partner.
Under a commercial partnership, the end destinations of sorted textiles are communicated to the retailer and the operational costs are shared.
The guide used an example of H&M and its I:CO scheme, rolled out in 2013. This saw the company offer a £5/€5 voucher for customers who brough in a bag of unwanted clothes. The company worked in partnership with I:Collect, a subsidiary from the Soex group, and to date has recycled 90,000 tonnes of clothing.
Another example was supermarket chain Tesco, which also worked with Soex to roll out a take-back trial in over 80 stores across the country in April 2019. Under this scheme, called F&F, Soex pays £150 per tonne collected directly to the Tesco national charity partners – British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and Diabetes UK – in equal proportions. Since the scheme started, Tesco has collected over 90 tonnes of clothing and plans to roll it out further.
WRAP says that charities are viewed very positively by UK citizens for clothes donation, therefore partnering with a charity could help increase customer participation in a take-back initiative.
It used the example of M&S, which launched a partnership with Oxfam in 2008 which saw the retailer set up banks in its stores which customers could bring clothes to.
Consumers would receive a £5 M&S voucher of a £35 spend on clothing, home and beauty products in M&S stores as long as the donation contains at least one item of M&S-labelled clothing.
Oxfam would then collect the clothes and resell them in shops, online or at festivals. Any clothes that cannot be resold or re-used are sent in bulk to reprocessing companies to be recycled as carpet underlay or mattress filling.
Retailers can also opt for an in-house system for take-back schemes, which WRAP says offers exclusive product insights as well as opportunities for “closing the loop on own products and materials”.
Patagonia launched a scheme in 2005 which customers can either send in used Patagonia garments or drop them in Patagonia stores, so these can be recycled or repurposed by the company.
The Clothing Take Back Guide was produced as part of the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP 2020), which completed in December 2020.
WRAP is currently preparing for the launch of a new ten-year voluntary agreement that will succeed SCAP 2020 and put circularity at the heart of how clothes are manufactured, sold and re-used at end of life – called Textiles 2030.
The guidance by WRAP was welcomed by the Textile Recycling Association (TRA)
Alan Wheeler, TRA director, said: “The Textile Recycling Association is very supportive of the new retailer take-back guide that has been published by WRAP. It is imperative that we move towards a more circular economy for clothing and this will involve collecting more for re-use and recycling.
“To do this we need to make it as easy as possible for the public to pass on their used items and in-store take back schemes will play an ever increasingly important role. Also the Textile Recycling Association and its members have already played a significant role in developing some of the already existing take-back schemes in the UK and we would welcome the opportunity to talk to retailers who are considering taking up such schemes.”