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STOCKHOLM – Fast fashion retailer H&M has said it will focus on circular economy business opportunities to tackle climate issues – despite the fact that the vast majority of the thousands of tonnes of clothing in collects in stores each year are actually downcycled not recycled. The business has cited a new report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation which claims that having energy transition and energy efficiency strategies in place will not be enough to avert climate disaster, as these strategies currently address just 55 per cent of the apparel industry’s total emissions while, according to the report, the rest comes from how we “manage land, produce and consume products.” Added a statement from H&M: “That is why applying circular economy solutions go hand in hand with taking action on business impact on the climate.”

H&M collected more than 20,000 tonnes of old garments through its in-store garment collection initiative last year, a mindboggling figure in itself. The goal is to collect 25,000 tonnes by 2020.

H&M says collected clothing is given a second life by reusing or recycling. And yet, it is well known that a very sizeable percent of these garments are not recycled but downcycled – used for insulation or as rags, for instance. This is certainly not closing the loop and is not in line with the principles of the circular economy. We also know that just a tiny proportion of garments are fully recycled at the present time (less than one per cent) using either chemical or mechanical recycling techniques, or a combination of both.

In the absence, then, of proper ‘closed loop’ technology solutions for textile recycling, old clothing – especially throwaway or fast fashion clothing – will likely end up in landfill or incineration sooner rather than later.

Commenting, Anna Gedda, head of sustainability H&M Group, said: “’The fashion industry will not exist in the future if we continue producing and using fashion in the same way.”

But surely, then, this requires a shift away from the fast fashion strategy which underpins the entire H&M business model and which has not fundamentally changed for the past 15 years?

Gedda continues: “Climate crisis requires us to take great steps to transform our whole industry. This report clearly shows how shifting to a circular economy and treating waste as a resource enable us to drastically reduce our footprint and reach our goal to become climate positive.”

Kim Hellström, strategy lead climate H&M Group added: “As climate crisis is not something a company can address on its own, especially when we share complex global supply chains, industry-wide collaboration within policy makers, business, investors and academia plays a critical role.”


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