Ocado takes on uniform waste quandary with pioneering re-use scheme

Ocado has teamed up with social enterprise charity Hubbub and a prison in Northumberland for an innovative new partnership that will prevent the online retailer's corporate uniforms being unnecessarily sent to landfill.

In a unique circular economy collaboration, Ocado’s old uniforms will be sent to HMP Northumberland prison where prisoners will transform them into tote bags and aprons, providing them with skills and work experience in the process.

Commenting on the scheme, Hubbub founder Trewin Restorick said: “We hope offices, warehouses, shops and factories throughout the UK will recognise the scale of this environmental problem and see that by treating their old uniforms as a useful resource they can find creative solutions that build not only environmental benefits but  social and financial ones too.

“With Ocado, designers ‘everything in colour’ and HMP Northumberland, we have created a range of sustainably created products with a social purpose, which promotes the rehabilitation and training of prisoners and supports a small start-up design business.”

Creative solution

Around 32.9 million garments – 16,290 tonnes – are provided to the 11.6 million wearers of corporate uniforms in the UK, but the vast majorit of this is sent to incineration or landfill, while just 9% is recovered through textile collectors and recycling banks.

Logistical complexities combined with brand protection and corporate security issues make it harder to recycled old uniforms, but this solution from Ocado and Hubbub could provide an answer; demonstrating how creative approaches to textile waste can create a sustainable business model.

If scaled up across industry, this type of re-use scheme has the potential to save up to £1.2m in landfill tax alone. 

The repurposed products, which will be designed by sustainable fashion brand ‘everything in colour’, will be sold by Ocado, with all proceeds going to the Ocado Foundation. Any textiles not fit for repurposing will be recycled for uses such as mattress filling.

War on Waste

On a broader level, textile waste remains an achilles heel of the circular economy , with figures from WRAP revealing that more than 350,000 tonnes of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year. 

Last month, celebrity chef-turned-eco-warrior Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall concluded his War on Waste BBC One series with a look into the turbo-charged clothing and textile industry, which he said “seems hell-bent on pursuading us to buy more than we need”.

At one point in the programme, Fearnley-Whittingstall stood upon a seven-tonne pile of clothing, consisting of 10,000 separate garments, in one of Britain’s largest shopping centres. He then revealed to surprised shoppers that it takes just 10 minutes for the country to throw away that amount of clothes.

“We’re binning more than £150m worth of clothes every year in the UK, and they end up being incinerated or buried in landfill,” Fearnley-Whittingstall said. Chucking away clothes at this current rate is clearly an environmental disaster.”

INFOGRAPHIC: Uniform waste

Matt Mace

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