Landsec launches textile take-back scheme to combat fast-fashion

The take-back scheme will accept clothing from any brand and be offered at Westgate mall in Oxford (pictured)

The firm will roll out recycling collection points for used and unwanted clothes at its Westgate shopping centre in Oxford next Monday (4 March), with all collected garments being sent for either reuse or recycling based on their condition.

Called ‘Spring Clean, Think Green’, the scheme will run for a month, with the take-back points also playing host to educational activities which teach shoppers about the impact which recycling clothes can have on the environment and economy. In order to ensure that the project is accessible to consumers, clothing from any brand will be accepted.

To incentivise shoppers to make use of the scheme, Landsec will run a series of rewards initiatives, including weekly prize draws for those who use the donation banks. To gauge success of the scheme, the firm will measure the weight of the textiles collected and count the number of items deposited, with the scheme set to be rolled out as a permanent feature across its entire UK retail state if initially successful.

“Clothing banks have existed for a number of years, but what we feel has been missing is a landlord-led initiative which can really drive up recycling rates in key retail destinations,” Landsec’s sustainability manager Tom Byrne said. “Our kiosk will bring the experience of recycling to life for customers and we’re hopeful that a less passive waste strategy will translate into greater enthusiasm for recycling textiles.”

Taxing retailers

The launch of the scheme comes shortly after the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) published the final report from its inquiry into the environmental and social impacts of the UK’s fashion sector, which revealed that Brits are buying and disposing of clothes at a faster rate than consumers in any other European nation.

Published last Tuesday (19 February), the 69-page report sets out a string of policy recommendations which could help reduce the 300,000 tonnes of clothing, shoes and accessories which are sent to landfill or incineration in the UK every year. 

A key inclusion of that report is the introduction of a 1p-per-item extended producer responsibility (EPR) charge for fashion brands, which would be ring-fenced for the funding of better textile recycling infrastructure. To complement this EPR system and further incentivise ambitious sustainability actions from fashion retailers, the report also recommends that the Government introduces tax breaks for companies which are successfully lowering their waste and carbon footprint – by shifting from a sales-based model to a servitisation model, for example.

While the likes of Boohoo, Primark and Debenhams have committed to support the recommendations of the report, Landsec has argued that a tax on retailers would pose a further financial challenge to the UK’s ‘bricks and mortar’ retailer sector, which is already being stretched by the shift to online retail and rising business rates.

“Michael Gove is right to be concerned about the impact fast fashion has on the environment, but now is not the time to introduce a new levy in bricks and mortar retail,” Landsec’s head of property for retail Ailish Christian-West said.

“At Landsec, we believe that through innovation and collaboration, we can make a significant and positive impact without placing an additional financial strain on the retail industry.”

New business models

Christian-West’s comments come at a time when several fashion brands are moving to launch or expand their textile recycling schemes. Sportswear giant Asics, for example, recently unveiled plans to host a garment recycling scheme across eight of the largest European running events that it sponsors.

However, campaigners and industry leaders alike are beginning to argue that recycling alone will not solve the fashion sector’s waste problems, given that the majority of garments are now made from hard-to-recycle textile blends.

In a bid to close the recyclability gap, H&M’s charitable arm, the H&M Foundation, last year opened a pre-industrial sized ‘Garment to Garment’ recycling facility in Hong Kong. The facility uses innovative hydrothermal recycling technology to separate textile blends and will be used by H&M exclusively to begin with. The organisation has, however, pledged to licence the technology so that it can be used by other fashion manufacturers and drive sector-wide change by 2020.

Sarah George

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