There’s now wary around it, we are buying a lot of clothes. It’s thought global consumption will rise by 60% globally by 2030 - from 62 million tonnes today to 103 million. But the more clothes we buy, the more we fill up landfill sites with our unwanted textiles. When recent research suggests the fashion industry is on a path to take up a staggering 25% of the world’s carbon budget, it’s clear that the systems behind how we produce, buy, and dispose of our clothing will need to change. ‘Take-back’ schemes - where customers return unwanted clothing to retailers to be re-sold, re-used or recycled - can be one part of moving us all towards a more sustainable fashion system. It won’t be the only answer but with all those tonnes of clothing projected to go into the system, the garments and fabric need to go somewhere!
“Providing re-use or resale opportunities at the places where most new sales take place can make it easy for customers to extend the life of their own unwanted garments.”
So how does a take-back scheme work?
A take-back programme is when a retailer provides an opportunity for customers to return clothes that are worn and torn, have outlived their usefulness or don’t fit anymore - helping to shift the mountains of unused garments sitting unloved at the back of wardrobes. Basically these schemes are creating another supply chain, treating used clothes as a worthy resource (which they are of course!), bringing them back into a system where they get a second life and stay out of the bin!
The mechanics vary, but the retailer will usually provide in-store collection points and then partner with a commercial collector or charity to sort the textiles and transfer them onwards for re-sale, re-use or recycling. Some companies will only take their own products back, while others will collect all textiles. You might find take back schemes in high street retailers and there are other online options too - brilliant new businesses starting to scale up and create viable business models in this space (something we love at Comhla!)
Have a look at these option online:
- Thrift+ - a resale platform that partners with big brands like Hush, French Connection and FarFetch, reselling returned clothes as second-hand, pre-loved items online. When you are looking at your favourite brands you might well see that Thrift+ is managing their take back scheme for them - you return clothes via Thrift+’s bags and earn credits which they can use to spend in the store or donate to charity. You can also send your unwanted clothes directly to Thrift+ yourself - just get a bag from their website.
- reGAIN is a multi-brand take-back app. Users can recycle unwanted clothes by packing and dropping them off at one of over 25,000 recycling drop-of points across the UK.
- Stufstr is an app that offers an instant buy-back on all items, ‘from socks to sequins.’
If you are on the high street anyway …
Some of the big brands on the high street provide take back facilities, but they aren’t in every store, but you could have a look around. For example M&S partner with Oxfam, H&M customers can give back any brand in some stores, and a few big Tesco and Zara stores have take back available too.
5 reasons to give it a try
Make space in your wardrobe and make money for charity
With £30 billion of clothing living unworn in UK wardrobes, you’d be surprised at what you have that you can return. Many take-back schemes include a charitable element or donation option, as do the online ones who are selling on your behalf.
2. Monetise your unwanted clothes
If you need to make some extra cash for your own living costs, have a look at the options online as they can sell your clothes for you. They make it very simple.
4. Keep fashion out of landfill
Every year, around 300,000 tonnes of clothing end up in UK landfill sites. Take back schemes are a real solution to getting that figure lower. Clothing takes a very long time to break down in landfill if its made from man-made fibres - for example if its made from polyester it can be around 200 years. That is a huge environmental burden.
5. Show brands that you care about sustainability
The more we all use take-back schemes, the stronger we send a message to the fashion industry that we want to shift to a circular economy (where you share, reuse, repair and recycle for as long as possible to extend a product’s lifecycle).
If you spot take back schemes and use them, do let us know (maybe send us a photo via our socials - we’d love to know how you get on) - after all only 1 % of clothes are currently recycled back into clothes again. Increasing that number is going to be a big challenge, but its an important one!