Fast fashion apparel retailer H&M operates a massive textile sorting and recycling facility outside Germany. The facility receives 14 metric tons of unwanted clothes per day. And at the facility H&M sorts the clothes for reuse, resale, and recycling.
The goal is to create a closed loop, where the company would make use of non-virgin fibers to make all of its new clothes.
"For us, the way forward is to create a closed loop for textiles where clothes that are no longer wanted can be turned into new ones, and we don’t see old textiles as waste, but rather a resource," Cecilia Brännsten, H&M’s sustainable business expert, told FastCoExist.com.
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With 4,200 stores around the world, H&M is the second-largest clothing retailer in the world (after Spain’s Inditex, which has 7,000). Its 2016 revenue is in the neighborhood of $20 billion. It takes a lot of $50 blazers and $10 T-shirts to get to that number, and the company tends to be the prime example of fast-fashion feeding unsustainable consumer habits and environmental damage. And while it clearly has no plans of stopping (the company's growth target is to increase stores by 10 to 15% annually) it's also investing heavily in fabric recycling innovations, in the hopes that it can continue to grow while creating a closed-loop system, where most (if not all) of the raw materials for its clothes come from fibers that were already used.
A main feature of this plan is a partnership with a solutions provider called I:CO, which oversees this 13-football-field sized plant, which was opened by their parent company, SOEX, in 1998. (SOEX is a German textile collection and recycling group; I:CO is one of their subsidiaries.) Since 2009, I:CO, which is short for I:Collect, has run the Wolfen plant and since 2013, when H&M began garment collecting, everything left in their European stores has been trucked here. I:CO manages H&M’s in-store cast-off collecting all over the world, and runs two similar facilities—in the U.S. and India—for making zero-waste use of clothes, shoes, and textiles that would otherwise likely end up in landfills.