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STOCKHOLM – Fast fashion giant H&M has been accused of incinerating unsold clothing stock rather than recycling it. Swedish media outlet SVT claims H&M incinerated 19 tonnes of new clothes in Västerås in 2016. The accusation follows previous claims that both H&M and Bestseller – owner of the Jack & Jones brand – have incinerated unused clothing stock.

SVT claims that over several years, H&M sent large amounts of goods in a specially constructed sealed container to be burned as Västerå’s CHP plant. However, H&M continues to maintain it only incinerates clothing stock which does not fulfil its safety regulations. The business pointed out that the used clothing in question was either mould infested or did not fulfil chemical requirements. However, the latter of these reasons again raises questions about the amount of chemicals used in clothing production.

Wading into the debate, Sweden’s Minister for the Environment, Karolina Skog, expressed concern that H&M, which has pledged to remove all hazardous chemicals from its products by 2020, is still producing clothing that is potentially harmful to consumers.

“The first question that strikes me is why are there so high levels of chemicals in the product that they can not be sold. It is a sign of something that I think is problematic. This reflects the great use of chemicals in production,” she said.

A statement from H&M on the issue of incinerating clothing said: “When test results show that certain products do not fulfil our safety regulations they should not under any circumstances be neither sold to our customer or be recycled.”

The issue of unsold clothing stock is one of the apparel industry’s best kept secrets, and attempts to find out how much stock remains unsold – some analysts claim around a third of all clothing is never sold – have always proved notoriously difficult. That said, 19 tonnes of clothing being incinerated by H&M does need to placed into context: statistics from the US claim Americans collectively send a staggering 14 million tons of clothing to landfill each year.

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