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Thursday, January 9, 2020

Returned online purchases often sent to landfill

Cheaper for businesses to just toss returns than check if they can be resold

Winter coats
Online shopping has created a boom in perfectly good products ending up in dumpsters
Every day, perfectly good products end up in dumpsters, from unopened shampoo to unworn clothes. Why? The Current went dumpster diving with a seasoned scavenger to find out.  11:49

Do you order different sizes of clothing online, knowing you can return the one that doesn't fit?
Did you know the ones you return are sometimes sent straight to landfill?
Online shopping has created a boom in perfectly good products ending up in dumpsters and landfills, according to Adria Vasil, an environmental journalist and managing editor of Corporate Knights magazine.

Amazon has faced accusations of destroying returned items in both France and Germany.
The issue also affects unsold products. Burberry admitted in 2018 that it had incinerated £90 million worth of clothing and accessories in the previous five years. The company stopped the policy last year after a public outcry.

British luxury fashion brand Burberry is going to stop burning unsold clothes, bags and perfume, and will instead focus on recycling and donating their leftover product.  2:39
How is the boom in online shopping influencing how much good product just goes to waste?
It's pretty staggering. The increase of the volume of returns has exploded by 95 per cent over the last five years. And in Canada alone, we are returning $46 billion worth of goods every year. And you think, OK, what's the big deal? Well, the problem is that — especially when we're returning online — a lot of these products end up going in landfills.

Why? You're returning something that's new and fine?
It actually costs a lot of companies more money to put somebody on the product, to visually eyeball it and say, Is this up to standard, is it up to code? Is this going to get us sued? Did somebody tamper with this box in some way? And is this returnable? And if it's clothing, it has to be re-pressed and put back in a nice packaging. And for a lot of companies, it's just not worth it. So they will literally just incinerate it, or send it to the dumpster.
Have you ever bought any clothes online? 
Yes, absolutely.
We're buying more of our clothing online, but it's actually hard because you don't really know exactly the sizing. So what many of us are doing is called bracketing. We will buy a medium, small and large or, you know, an 8, 10 and 12, and try them all on and then return the two that don't fit. Problem is, the two that we return are actually, in many cases, being landfilled. And the brands do not want to deal with those returns. So they'd rather just dump them.

So are there companies that are trying to curb this practice? Are there solutions?
We're seeing so many clothing brands, in particular, throwing out or incinerating clothes, as Burberry did. They were caught burning billions of dollars of clothes. H&M as well. And it was a scandal, you know, for people in the clothing industry. Finding out, if you're a shopper, that billions of dollars are being burned because they do not want this ending up on the market, and undervaluing their clothes on shelves this year. It lowers the prices, et cetera.

So we're seeing some brands push back against this. Patagonia has started an online and a physical store for products that are maybe slightly damaged that they have repaired. You're seeing some brands actually do the repairing, encourage the repairing, so that they can get packages and goods back on shelves.
France is banning … having those [returned goods] go to landfill.
And so we're starting to see a shift in attitude. People are actually, I think, really fed up and disgusted by the practice.

Dumpster garbage
Stores will sometimes dump returned goods rather than go through the process of checking and repackaging them. (Shutterstock/ungvar)
Why won't companies give the clothes to charities?
It's an image thing. They're trying to maintain exclusivity. They're trying to maintain kind of the specialness of their product. But it's really symptomatic of a larger issue with kind of our consumer culture right now.
So what can we do as consumers, especially now that we're doing shopping for holidays? 
I would highly recommend that you do second-guess your returns. So, think about the product closely and see if there's somebody else who can give it to. If you do not want to return it, can you donate it instead?

Purchase second-hand. A lot of us are buying new goods that we don't really need. And there is an increased trend in second-hand shopping right now. And so I would encourage you to partake in it and to look for brands that are actually part of the circular economy, that are, like Patagonia, repairing, refurbishing and fixing goods at the end of their life so that they can have a second life. And so that we do not end up with so much waste. oa here

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Eileen Fisher wants those clothes back when you're done

Eileen Fisher wants those clothes back when you're done

Bags of used clothing await recycling at the Eileen Fisher factory in Irvington, N.Y. (Vincent Tullo / Washington Post)

It's back-to-school time, which means the advertisements are everywhere: Buy! Buy! Buy! Pencils and gadgets. Backpacks and sneakers. And, yes, heaps and piles of brand new clothes.
But this year, those ads are running up against another powerful message, resounding from such big brands as Eileen Fisher and Patagonia, along with a growing cadre of smaller thrift and resale shops: Let's make do, reuse, recycle.

Fast-fashion trends, driven by consumer taste and innovations in textile manufacturing, have overstuffed American closets. Clothes shopping has emerged as a weekly habit, and people are constantly clearing out and buying new.

It's a big problem. In 2019, Americans will throw away more than 35 billion pounds of textiles, according to the Council for Textile Recycling. That's nearly twice as much as in 1999.
It's more important than ever, environmental advocates say, to keep that clothing out of landfills.
"We're trying to take responsibility," said Eileen Fisher, whose eponymous fashion brand buys back its garments from customers at $5 each and reworks the material into new merchandise, under its Renew brand, at factories in Irvington, N.Y., and Seattle. It bought back its millionth garment in May. Fisher lives near the former printing warehouse in Irvington that the company converted into its Renew sewing factory. She walked through its intake center, wearing a gray and white kimono coat made from patches of Eileen Fisher clothing scraps that were turned into felt.
At an early stage in her 34-year-old company, Fisher said she and her co-workers grew alarmed at the environmental toll of clothing manufacturing, such as depleted farm fields and dye pollution in rivers. Her company's reuse efforts have expanded into its Circular by Design mission, in which today's clothes become tomorrow's raw materials.

"We need to move from a use-and-discard economy to a reuse economy," she said. Her company’s remade clothes are specially tagged and sold in Eileen Fisher stores, pop-up shops and several Nordstrom locations. A $250 jacket gets a second life at $90. "As manufacturers, we want to treasure the resources we're using, to make clothing that lasts and can be repurposed. We want customers to value our clothes."

Patagonia, the Ventura-based outdoor apparel maker, for decades has been a worldwide leader in this closed-loop system of manufacturing and reuse.

"As individuals, the best thing we can do for the planet is to buy less and keep our stuff in use longer," said Rose Marcario, Patagonia's president and chief executive. "The simple act of extending the life of our garments through proper care and repair reduces the need to buy more over time."
It's estimated that the global textile industry uses 98 million tons of resources a year, chiefly water and energy. Fabric dyes have polluted major rivers in India, Bangladesh, China and other countries. The plight of underpaid workers producing fast fashion in unsafe factories has sparked outrage after being documented in documentaries and books.

The large and ambitious buyback, repair and repurpose operations signal a fundamental shift in consumers' relationship with clothing.

One vision of the future works like this: Brands manage the products they make after consumers use them. Consumers buy garments with the idea of keeping them as long as possible, and then the brand repairs and resells them. If garments are too damaged to be donated or resold, they will be "upcycled" into new clothing or recycled into fibers. So, for instance, a favorite shirt may one day provide the fiber that insulates a home. Or the fabric of a sofa. A garment might have six or seven life cycles.
Repurposing "can be made into a business that's profitable," Fisher said, noting that her company's Renew operation brings in $3 million of the company's $450 million in annual sales.
To amplify the philosophy that resource stewardship can be profitable, the Eileen Fisher company is an active member of Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy and the American Sustainable Business Council, joining like-minded ventures such as Nike, Seventh Generation and Starbucks. "We don't want sustainability to be our edge," Fisher said. "We want it to be universal."
‘Waste can be art’
At its huge service center in Reno, Patagonia houses a repair facility where 70 full-time employees replace zippers, patch rips and renew and return items that customers may have bought decades ago. The company's Worn Wear program, begun in 2005, includes cute clapboarded rigs that make regular tours to U.S. college campuses and ski resorts and to international locations, teaching customers how to repair items. Shoppers can sell used Patagonia items in good condition back to the company and buy "certified, pre-owned" Patagonia gear at discounted prices online.
To further the cause, Cynthia Power, facilities manager for Eileen Fisher's Renew, is kept busy showing other clothing manufacturers how its 40 employees mend, overdye, resew or felt (a way of processing fabric) bought-back silk, wool, cashmere and cotton.
"This is where our industry is going," Power said, watching as head designer Carmen Gama pinned a jumpsuit for Renew's fall 2019 line using fabric from five pairs of used black jeans. The recycled textiles also are turned into wall hangings, pillows, coats, vests and kimono jackets.
"Waste can be art," Eileen Fisher designing artist Sigi Ahl said. The pillows are sold at ABC Home stores, and a Paris gallery sells the wall art. Both types of product were displayed in June at the American Institute of Architects' sustainable exhibit at the Javits Center in New York.
The Renew program also studies fiber wear and clothing-construction techniques to generate performance data — such as how well a particular material held up — that it puts on Excel spreadsheets, Fisher said. The information "inspires the main fashion line" to do better, she said.
Todd Copeland, Patagonia's environmental responsibility manager, said the company — a founding member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition — has long turned yarns made from plastic bottles into fleece, for example, and made fabric from plant fibers such as eucalyptus.
He said Patagonia has relationships with at least 85 finished goods factories in 17 countries, at least 150 material suppliers in 25 countries and at least 200 farms, and the company examines them all for business capability, quality, environmental impact and social impact.
He said the efforts help the company: "Customers are looking for a brand with values that resonate with them."
Resale shops are multiplying
It's back-to-school time, and Kidding Around, a children's resale shop in Clive, Iowa, has been hopping for weeks. July, August and September are the store's busiest months, and there is brisk turnover of the 18,000 secondhand clothing items for sale.
The 4,000-square-foot store outside Des Moines is open seven days a week. A staff of nine keeps up with the flow of garments coming in and going out. Parents drop off lightly worn clothing and never-worn garments — "new with tags," in resale parlance — and receive cash or store credit.
The appeal of resale?
"People have so much stuff it's unbelievable," owner Diane Fitzgerald said. "And they like the concept that they can reuse and recycle their items."
The number of thrift, consignment and resale businesses has exploded in recent years, growing 7% annually, according to trade association figures.
Online, a new crop of resale shops such as ThredUp and Vinted has emerged, as well as internet-only sales platforms sponsored by traditional thrifts such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army. These time-honored nonprofits face increased competition because of the nationwide expansion of for-profit chains such as Clothes Mentor, Buffalo Exchange and Plato's Closet.
Clothing rental companies such as Rent the Runway, another form of recycling, have also been booming.
Now, one out of six Americans shops for resale clothing. But only about 15% of clothing in the U.S. is recycled.
‘Rethinking consumerism’
At a textiles summit in New York in October, Ben Rose, representing the city's Sanitation Department, disclosed a stunning figure. Each year, on the day of the New York City Marathon, runners shed as much as 100 tons of clothing. His department places collection bins inside apartment buildings. Most of the textile waste it collects goes to salvage and is turned into such products as wiping cloths, auto insulation and carpet padding.
Worldwide, less than 1% of the material used to produce clothes is eventually recycled, according to an Ellen MacArthur Foundation report. The waste causes major environmental damage and the annual loss of about $100 billion of potentially useful textiles that are burned or buried in landfills.
Some industries are stepping up. Airlines such as Southwest, Jet Blue, Delta and KLM are recycling uniforms, blankets and cushion fabrics, which are turned into totes, luggage tags and stuffed animals.
Unlike recent changes in the food industry, where restaurants and corporations responded to consumer demands for more healthful food, much of the initiative on fighting textile waste is coming from forward-thinking clothing companies and industry associations.
The summit in New York on innovations in textile manufacturing, waste reduction and reuse brought together a large roster of groups working on the problem, including the Product Stewardship Institute, Textile Recovery, the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute and the New York Product Stewardship Council.
College students have been early adopters of the waste-reduction issue. A campus-based nonprofit, the Post-Landfill Action Network, has chapters at about 100 universities across North America. The group promotes plastic-free campuses, food recovery and composting programs, efforts to salvage items students discard when they move out at the end of the year, and campus thrift stores.
"It's a young people's movement," said Ahl, the designing artist at Eileen Fisher. "They're rethinking consumerism. Just like in fast food, things must change."

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