Collecting, recirculating and recycling prolongs the life of garments and fibres, and saves the energy and resources used to make something new.
Collect, recirculate and recycle
Currently, less than one percent of the material used to make clothing is recycled into new garments*. This has to change. We need to start using existing clothing and textiles more, recirculating them through repair, reuse and remake before increasing the recycling rate of used textiles, offcuts, scraps and faulty products.
In 2013, we introduced the first garment collecting initiative for a brand our size. Since then, we have collected over 140,000 tonnes of preloved textiles.
* Ellen MacArthur Foundation, A New Textiles Economy, Redesigning Fashion’s Future, 2017
Recycling and the circular economy
In a circular fashion industry recycling is only the final loop, not the entire solution. First, we need to keep garments and textiles in use for as long as possible. At H&M Group, we are changing the way we design our products and introducing new circular business models to extend the lifetime of our products and materials. We always advocate recirculating textiles through repair, reuse and remake before recycling.
Useful definitions from Ellen MacArthur Foundation:
Repair: Operation by which a faulty or broken product or component is returned to a usable state.
Reuse: Operation by which a product or component is used repeatedly and for long periods of time, for its original purpose, without being significantly modified, remade, or recycled.
Remake: Operation by which a product is created from existing products or components. This operation can include disassembling, re-dyeing, restyling, and other processes to improve emotional and physical durability.
Recycle: The process of reducing a product back to its basic material level, reprocessing those materials, and using them in new products, components or materials.
Post-consumer garment collecting
To make sure we make the most of the resources and energy embedded in existing products, we offer our customers garment collecting points in almost all our stores. After we have received the preloved items, we hand them over to one of our partners. They then sort and recirculate the items according to their condition:
- Rewear – garments that can be worn again will be sold as second-hand clothes.
- Repurposed – old clothes and textiles will be turned into other products, such as cleaning cloths.
- Recycle – everything that can’t be resold or reused will be turned into textile fibres for use in new textile products.
Since we started our garment collecting programme, we have received over 140,000 tonnes of textiles. Here are some examples of how we repurpose textiles collected in our stores and collections:
ARKET used post-consumer denim to create unique pieces. Reclaimed garments were cut into patches and sewn together to form large sheets of irregular fabric shapes, which were then used instead of fabric rolls.
Renewcell uses post-consumer textiles from several sources to make new material, including our garment collecting programme. In 2021 we used Circulose® in several styles across our brands and collections.
The production of garments and textiles generates offcuts and scraps that are valuable resources, but are generally considered as waste today. These materials have the potential to be recovered, reused and eventually recycled into new products to create a circular supply chain. We want to shift the mindset of the fashion industry to treat this waste as the valuable resource it is.
We work closely with our suppliers to make sure we make the most of the resources in our supply chain. Our Responsible Waste Management Guidelines helps our suppliers to better manage their resources and to recover the value embedded in waste materials.
Here are some examples of how we are making better use of our pre-consumer resources:
In 2021, we recycled around 500 tonnes of textile waste from our garment production factories back into our products. We plan to scale up this process, by working with our suppliers and a wider network of recyclers to increase the traceability of material waste within the value chain and accelerate the uptake of new recycling technologies.
Our new Waste Recycling Strategy links cutting waste from our orders with repurposing and recycling. More than 50 of our direct suppliers are taking part in pilots with Reverse Resources and Circular Fashion Partnership to separate cutting waste into different fibre types before handing it onto recyclers.
Recycling & materials
In 2021, we tripled the use of recycled materials in our products to 17.9% and we aim to reach 30% by 2025. Increasing textile recycling capacity and further developing and innovating regional infrastructure for collecting and sorting are vital to help us achieve these ambitions.
As part of our work to increase the availability and quality of feedstock for recycled materials, we surveyed 25 sorting and recycling companies to find out what technologies will be economically and technically possible to scale up in the next three years. We used the results to develop our new approach to designing for circularity. Find out more in our Circulator Guide.
Here are some examples of how we are working with recycled materials:
Infinited Fiber Company makes regenerated cellulosic fibre from cotton waste. InfinnaTM was first used by Weekday and now H&M CO:LAB has invested in the company to help them move closer to commercial volumes.
In one of H&M’s stores in Stockholm, the LOOOP machine turns customer’s old garments into new ones in just eight steps. It was developed by Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) in collaboration with H&M Foundation.
The Green Machine fully separates and recycles cotton and polyester blends at scale. Monki created the first collection using recycled fibres from the machine. It was developed by HKRITA in collaboration with H&M Foundation.
Becoming circular in a linear world
Successfully transitioning to a circular model requires a system shift. For decades our industry has operated in a linear way. This means that current policy, legislation and infrastructure are not set up for a circular world.
Alongside increasing the use of existing garments and textiles, we need to improve textile recycling by:
- Increasing the collecting and sorting rate of textiles for recycling.
- Developing automatic sorting technology that recognises the different fibres, blends, treatments and processes, and sorts accordingly.
- Scaling up local textile to textile recycling technology that achieves high recovery rates.
To make this possible, we need a shift in policy. We have engaged on an international and a local level. In 2021, we released a position paper on waste as a resource calling for a secondary raw materials market for textiles within the European Union (EU). We believe this can be achieved by:
- Establishing an EU-wide harmonised Extended Producer Responsibility to enable efficient collecting, sorting and recycling across the EU.
- Defining post-consumer textiles as resources.
- Making free movement of textile resources simpler within the EU and globally.
- Increasing recycling capacity and standardising sorting, collecting and recycling infrastructure across the EU.
We are also part of Fashion for Good’s 18-month Sorting for Circularity project. The idea is to build better links between fashion brands and textile sorters/recyclers to scale recycling capacity in Europe.
Where to recirculate and recycle your preloved garments and textiles
Did you know that the most valuable clothing is already in your wardrobe? Between 2000 and 2015 clothing production doubled but the number of times an item of clothing was worn before being thrown away fell by over a third (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Circular Business Models, Redefining Growth for a Thriving Fashion Industry, 2021).
Before you leave your pre-loved items at our stores have you thought about having a clothes swap with your friends, repairing or even reselling your garments?
Here are some ideas from our brands over how you can extend the life of your current wardrobe:
- Our friends at Monki have shared lots of ideas on how to customise and hack your jeans.
- Find lots of useful tips on how you can repair and extend the lifespan of your clothing with H&M Take Care.
- We are scaling up several different projects for resale and rental. Find out if they are available in your country here.
Almost all our stores have garment collecting points and accept textiles from any brand in any condition, even holey socks! Here’s a list of what you can send for recirculation and recycling and where:
Due to Covid-19 related issues, services provided by our partners may be temporarily disrupted in selected markets and/or brands. For more information, please contact your local customer service.