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H&M Forms Venture to Sort Textile Waste, Recycle Used Garments

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(Bloomberg) —

Hennes & Mauritz AB is expanding into the business of textile-sorting as it forms a venture to deal with waste in the fashion industry.

The Swedish retailer has created a joint venture with recycling company Remondis with the aim of extending the life of about 40 million garments in 2023. The business, called Looper Textile Co., will collect used and unwanted garments and resell them to second-hand fashion companies and the recycling industry.

“What we are doing is taking unsorted waste and transforming it into something usable,” Looper Textile Chief Executive Officer Emily Bolon said in a phone interview. 

Looper Textile will collect garments from municipal containers across Europe, as well as from H&M’s own in-store collection program, which has been in place since 2013. The company estimates that 60% of collected items are eligible for resale, and will go to a wide range of players, from European online platforms, to off-price second-hand chains in eastern Europe or importers in Africa. A third of clothes will go to recycling plants, mostly to be turned into car insulation or sofa stuffing, which is known in the sector as “downcycling.” 

Garments that are unfit for reuse or recycling account for 5% of all collections, and will be incinerated at power plants, Bolon said.

Read more: Fast Fashion’s Recycling Myth Buries Developing World in Waste

Sorting will mostly be done by human hands, though automated technologies will also be used.

Before being appointed CEO of Looper Textile, Bolon held various roles within H&M, most recently as head of commercial, advisory and strategic partnerships.

H&M’s move comes as pressure mounts on an industry that produces 100 billion apparel items each year, about 14 garments for every person on Earth. Only about a third of unwanted clothes are collected, according to consulting firm McKinsey & Co. Of that, less than 1% is recycled into new fashion, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a UK nonprofit. 

Read more: Machine That Sorts Holey Socks Is Helping to Stem Textile Waste

–With assistance from Olivia Rudgard.

© 2023 Bloomberg L.P.

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