H&M responds to ‘very serious’ claims it dumps clothes sent for recycling

H&M has responded to allegations that clothes donated to its instore recycling points are being destroyed, burnt or dumped in landfill by saying that it takes the claims “very seriously” and has since changed its recycling partner.

The retailer was quick to issue an official response after it was implicated in a Changing Markets investigation which used electronic tags to track 21 items of clothing intended for recycling – one of which was donated to H&M’s Oxford Street flagship store. It was later traced to a wasteland on the outskirts of Mali, some 24,800 kilometres away.

The high street fashion brand has had a global clothing collecting service since 2013, and hands out vouchers to customers in what it describes as a “reward” for customers who recycle. At launch, it stated that 95% of the thousand tonnes of textiles thrown away each year could be worn again or recycled.

This is not the first time H&M has been found to fall short on its recycling ambitions. Similar investigations which took place earlier this year also found that – instead of working locally with recycling partners – old clothes are more likely to be sent halfway around the globe where they are unceremoniously dumped.

In response to the latest allegations, the retailer’s head of sustainability Leyla Ertur said the brand has “zero tolerance” for textiles becoming waste and claimed that processes have changed since the investigation took place, late last year.

“We take the findings presented in the investigation very seriously and we are humble to the fact that we and our previous partner in this case have not managed to live up to our own high standards,” she began.

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At the time the investigation was conducted, H&M’s global clothing collection partner was I:Collect – this changed to German recycling company Remondis in January 2023. As part of this change, Ertur said all garments collected in the UK are now sorted within Europe.

“We require our partners to have strict procedures in place to ensure that collected clothing and textiles are taken care of responsibly. All collected textiles should be sorted and evaluated individually against different criteria following the EU waste hierarchy, which states that reusing should be prioritised before recycling.”

While this is a significant step forward, it does seem to shift responsibility onto the partners rather than H&M itself.

She also said H&M is “putting great efforts into gathering feedback and further optimising the sorting processes so that garments are only sent to partners and countries where they can get a second life.”

As part of this, Ertur said the retailer is “looking forward to stricter legislation” on waste and textile responsibility while also advocating for tougher legislation.

“Clearer rules for everyone in the industry will mean a lot to deal with the problems. In addition, we make large and long-term investments to speed up the transition to a sustainable fashion industry throughout our supply chain.

“We are working hard on tackling these challenges from different ends, with tech innovations, better traceability, pushing for stricter legislations and the development of new circular materials, to mention some, and we are fully committed to continue our journey to create a more circular and sustainable fashion future.”

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