Fashion take-back programmes: the good and the bad

Jessica Carvalho explores the benefits and setbacks of take-back programs, and how their effects may have detrimental consequences. 

As more people begin to implement sustainability into their lives and become more conscious consumers, the concept of take-back programmes is growing in popularity. Even high street names have adhered to this, with H&M introducing its own “Garment Collecting” scheme across all of its European stores, wherein customers are able to drop off their unused clothes from any brand, in any condition, and receive a voucher to spend in store. The collected items are then sent to recycling plants to be cleaned, shredded & knitted into new clothes ready for sale. This is, naturally, the ideal scenario for any take-back programme; however, the harsh reality is that most of these items end up being shipped to African countries. 

There is a lot of business involved in an otherwise charitable action, with the global second-hand industry worth as much as $3.7 billion, as reported by The Guardian. These donations do have their benefits and often do reach people who need them the most, but they also stop countries on the receiving end from developing and sustaining their own, local businesses. Furthermore, there is such a surplus of clothes arriving at multiple countries of the continent that governments struggle with making use of them, most ending up in landfills or disposed of in ways that cause further harm to already delicate ecosystems. 

Tunisia, one of the countries often receiving second-hand clothes from developed countries, imported over 170,000 tonnes of donated clothes in 2016 alone, and these now make up half of the clothes sold in the country, leaving a good amount of imported donations unaccounted for. 

From a consumer point of view, it’s difficult to know what to do with clothes we want to donate, given the uncertain future of donations – most of the change that needs to originate from companies and brands carrying out these schemes, ensuring they are put to good use. Though, by making conscious purchases and therefore curbing the number of items we need to donate, we can begin to ensure a better future not only for our clothes, but also ourselves. 

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