H&M makes progress towards circular model

Fashion retail giant H&M has revealed that 35 per cent of the materials used by the company in 2017 were recycled or sustainably-sourced materials in its new Sustainability Report 2017, launched yesterday (12 April), demonstrating progress towards its goal of a circular textiles economy.

A dependence on virgin material and our predilection for fast fashion are contributing to the unpitying strain placed on the planet’s resources by the global textiles industry, with global clothing production doubling in the last 15 years and sales of footwear and clothing reaching US$1.67 trillion in 2016. Once finished with these items of clothing, however, consumers are all too ready to throw them away, with 85 per cent of clothing waste in the US ending up in landfill. Research conducted by UK supermarket Sainsbury’s in 2017 revealed that nearly three quarters of Britons admit to throwing away their clothes rather than recycling them.

The linear production and consumption model on which the global textiles industry is based does not lend itself to exploiting the maximum value of the resources used in the process, with material fibres used in textile production ending up in landfill representing more than $100 billion of lost value every year.

H&M makes progress towards circular model


In the face of such a misuse of resources, H&M’s sustainability report states that ‘an industry-wide shift from a linear to a circular business model is the only solution’ available to bring the global textiles industry back within the limits of sustainability.

Focusing on actions taken by the company and its suppliers in the five stages of design, material choice, production processes, product use and product reuse and recycling, the report reveals the state of H&M’s progress towards a more sustainable model.

The report revealed that 35 per cent of the total material used by H&M in 2017 were recycled or sustainably-sourced materials, with a goal of using only this kind of material by 2030, while 59 per cent of the cotton used by the company came from sustainable sources, with a goal to only use this kind of cotton by 2020.

Further progress on materials comes in the form of a partnership with innovation company re:newcell, which uses unique technology to recycle used cotton, viscose and other cellulosic fibres into new textile fibres, while H&M became one of two core investors in innovation company Treetotextile, which is in the process of developing a new sustainable textile fibre based on forest raw materials. The company also used recycled polyester equivalent to 100 million PET plastic bottles.

Significant emphasis has been placed on design for longevity and the recycling and reuse of textile products in the report, seeking to clearly demonstrate H&M’s commitment to moving away from fast fashion towards a truly circular model.

The report states that H&M now takes a ‘component first’ design approach, accounting for product longevity, durability and recyclability while also encouraging customers to use their clothing for longer, with the company hoping to launch its Take Care pilot project in spring 2018 to provide customers with guidance and information to help refresh, repair and remake their clothes. H&M also collected 17,771 tonnes of textiles in 2017 through its garment recycling initiative, and has collected 57,000 tonnes of garments since 2013.

Attention has not only been given to the garments themselves, but also to the sustainability of the company’s stores, with 64 per cent of stores now having their own recycling systems, while in 2017 92.8 per cent of waste originating in H&M’s warehouses was recycled.

Commenting on the release of the report, Mattias Bodin, Sustainability Business Expert – Materials & Innovation at H&M, said: "Every year we take new steps towards our bold goal to only use recycled or other sustainably sourced materials by 2030. This significantly reduces the use of natural resources and the negative impact our business has on the climate. It's important to use already existing sustainable materials but also test completely new fabrics. When it comes to recycled materials, they are truly a win-win since they stop waste material going to landfill and at the same time reduce the use of virgin raw material.”

Cecilia Brännsten, Acting Environmental Sustainability Manager at H&M group, added: "Innovation is key to solve many of the challenges the fashion industry is facing. Especially when it comes to accelerating the shift from a linear to a circular model. But it will not be one technology, one innovation, that will do the trick; instead it will be several ideas, scientists and companies putting the puzzle together, pushing the development forward. That is why we invest in and partner with innovation companies such as re:newcell and Treetotextile.”

H&M’s actions in pursuit of circularity are representative of the increasing desire to instill a more sustainable ethos into the global textiles industry. In the UK, the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) is working with industry through the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) in the UK, and more widely in Europe through the European Clothing Action Plan (ECAP) to promote sustainable practices in the textiles industry.

Meanwhile, launched in 2017, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circular Fibres Initiative has brought together numerous stakeholders from across the textiles industry, including H&M, to outline a vision for a new global fibres system, moving away from a linear model and towards a circular model focused on sustainable growth benefiting citizens and businesses alike, while progressively reducing waste and pollution in the supply chain.

You can read H&M’s Sustainability Report 2017 in full on the company’s website.

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