Can H&M Really Make Fast Fashion Sustainable?
A look at the company's ambitious new project.
BY Scott Christian | Dec 22, 2016 | News
Fast fashion has a lot of sins on its hands, not the least of which is its profoundly negative impact on the environment. One way in which H&M (the world's second largest clothing retailer after Zara-owner Inditex) is trying to deal with that is by teaming with a German textile collection and recycling group to reuse, recycle, or resell old clothes.
According to an article in Co.Exist, H&M has, since 2013, been operating a massive sorting and recycling facility in a town called Wolfen, two hours outside of Berlin. The plant takes in 14 metric tons per day of unwanted clothes gathered from H&M's recycling bins throughout Europe, then sorts them based on 350 different criteria to determine whether they can be resold, partly reused, or fully recycled.
The goal, according to Cecilia Brännsten, H&M's sustainable business expert, 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."
It's an ambitious target considering the fact that, while the facility has collected around 34,000 tons of waste over the last three years, equivalent to the weight of 178 million T-shirts, H&M as a company currently produces somewhere between 550 and 600 million garments annually. And though in 2015 H&M reportedly produced 1.3 million garments with closed loop material, it has an extremely long way to go before reaching anything close to sustainability.
Part of the problem as that, as of now, fibers like blended cotton-poly can't be recycled into wearable new material. And natural fibers like cotton are shortened when they are re-spun, meaning that it takes multiple garments to create one new one. Because of this, when you buy clothes that are marked "recycled," it's true for only 20 percent of the garment. The rest of it is made from virgin (i.e: new) fiber.
Recycling clothes also doesn't fully address the environmental impact of clothing production, which is extremely land- and water-intensive, and uses up a lot of electricity. Because of this, the apparel industry is responsible for 10 percent of all carbon emissions globally.
And, as the Co.Exist article points out, increased recycling doesn't address H&M's sketchy track record when it comes to human rights issues. According to a report last spring from The Clean Clothes Campaign, factories in Bangladesh that work with H&M are still not considered safe, with 70 percent of its suppliers still lacking in life-saving features like fire exits. And while H&M does fare well compared to competitors when it comes to protecting against forced labor, there are also reports of vendors in Cambodia and India coercing pregnant employees to get abortions, or else they'll be fired.
All in all, while it's nice to see some environmental improvement, it's hard not to see H&M's currently recycling program as a band-aid on the gaping wound that is fast fashion. A few T-shirts with 20 percent recycled material hardly scratches the surface of the negative impact that our insatiable need for cheap new clothing has caused.
That said, we really are hoping for the continued success of the program. It's far from a nostrum, but still—progress is better than no progress.
From: Esquire US