Recycling -- fashion world's antidote to environmental concerns

Mon Aug 24, 2015 5:48pm EDT
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By Anna Ringstrom

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Hennes & Mauritz, the world's second-biggest fashion retailer, is launching a new effort to promote recycling as it seeks to cut its environmental impact, boost its ethical credentials and address looming shortages of raw materials.

The move comes as critics point out the damage being caused by a throwaway culture fuelled by cheap clothing that has seen a sharp rise in the number of garments sold annually around the world.

Sweden's H&M, which is launching a line of jeans containing recycled cotton next week, will offer an annual 1-million-euro ($1.16 million) prize for new techniques to recycle clothes, Chief Executive Karl-Johan Persson told Reuters.

"No company, fast-fashion or not, can continue exactly like today," Persson said. "The (prize's) largest potential lies with finding new technology that means we can recycle the fibres with unchanged quality."

As population pressure mounts, retailers like H&M are concerned about potential future shortages of cotton, which is heavily water and pesticide dependent.

Existing cotton recycling methods make poor-quality fibres, and there is no efficient way to recycle garments of mixed materials, so the vast majority of clothes end up in land fill.

Johan Rockstrom, environmental science professor at Stockholm University and a jury member for the H&M prize, said the fashion industry needs to find new business models to respond to global resource shortages.

"This is a great challenge for H&M whose trademark is cheap clothes at good quality ... The fact it's cheap means there's a risk people buy and throw away, or buy too much," he said.   Continued...

Shoppers look over merchandise at Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) store in Peru, at the Jockey Plaza mall in Lima, July 21, 2015. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo