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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

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Can Recycled Rags Fix Fashion’s Waste Problem?

At FabScrap’s warehouse in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, textiles from fashion studios are sorted by material and color. The organization’s goal is to cut down on design waste by recycling and reselling the swatches designers use to pick materials.

Tucked away in the bowels of the Brooklyn Army Terminal is a 4,000-square-foot warehouse filled from wall to wall and floor to ceiling with garbage bags. They contain castoffs from New York’s fashion studios: mock-up pockets ripped from sample jeans, swatches in next season’s paisley print.
There is denim here in every wash, spandex in every hue. Dig through one bag and it is possible to find a little rug of carmine-colored fur and yards of gray pinstripe wool suiting. In another, embroidered patches from GapKids and spools of ribbon in velvet and lace.
Nearly 6,000 pounds of textile scraps arrive each week to be inspected, sorted and recycled by five staffers and many more volunteers at FabScrap, the nonprofit behind this operation. Since 2016, it has helped New York’s fashion studios recycle their design-room discards — the mutilated garments, dead-stock rolls and swatches that designers use to pick materials and assess prototypes.
So far, the organization has collected close to half a million pounds of fabric from the design studios of large retailers like Express, J. Crew and Marc Jacobs and independent clothiers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Their discards have been shredded and recycled into stuffing and insulation or resold to fashion students, educators and artists.
“So much waste gets created in the design process,” said Jessica Schreiber, the executive director of FabScrap. “But it’s the tip of the iceberg.”

As climate change has accelerated, corporations of all kinds have become increasingly preoccupied with their sustainability cred. Four-fifths of consumers feel strongly that companies should implement programs to improve the environment, according to a recent Nielsen study.

FabScrap’s sorting process is run by five employees and a handful of volunteers, many of whom are design students.
Credit...John Taggart for The New York Times

Clothing companies in particular have faced pressure to change, from politicians, protesters at fashion shows and shoppers of all ages who want to reduce their carbon footprints. The fashion industry is often erroneously cited as the second-most polluting business in the world, but overproduction, chemical use, carbon emissions and waste are certainly issues it contends with.

Ms. Schreiber understood early the angst that waste was causing designers. In 2014, she was overseeing the Department of Sanitation’s refashionNYC program, which collects old clothing and textiles at farmers’ markets and in participating apartment buildings.
She received a string of similar calls from brands including J. Crew, Eileen Fisher, Express, Mara Hoffman and Marc Jacobs. The companies were sitting on piles of seasonal prints and swatches that couldn’t be donated but shouldn’t be thrown out.
“It really hit a nerve with people,” Ms. Schreiber said. Half of the designers had resorted to hoarding scraps under their desks as they tried — and failed — to find places to give them away. “There was a lot of guilt,” she said, and no clear path.
For a designer, cutting down on waste isn’t as simple as recycling a few bags of fabric every week. It requires overhauling the brand’s business model: forgoing seasonal collections; eschewing — or being rejected by — traditional retailers that accept only large orders and standard packaging; selling directly to consumers; and getting design teams to think about the sustainability and supply chain of each material and garment.

Dana Davis, the vice president of sustainability at Mara Hoffman and an early FabScrap adopter, remembered feeling anxious about how the company could better deal with waste. “It just felt burdensome,” she said. But after a conversation with Ms. Hoffman, the designer, it became clear to them that change was necessary.
The company began shipping swimwear in compostable bags and made long-term commitments to the materials it purchased. To cut excess inventory, the brand moved away from the fashion cycle and the industry norm of placing orders on projection.
There are still challenges — like making sure consumers and retailers actually compost the bags — but other brands are getting on board with changes at the design, manufacturing and distributional levels.
It’s hard to pinpoint how much waste is created before a garment even reaches the consumer. Factory waste is not tracked by outside agencies. Supply chains are now so complex and reliant on remote contractors and subcontractors that the companies can’t account for all the materials. 

Even if a brand wanted to find out how much fabric waste it created, “it would be very difficult for them to research that, because different factories might have different processes,” said Timo Rissanen, an associate professor of sustainability at Parsons School of Design.
Wendy Waugh, the senior vice president of sustainability at Theory and a FabScrap client, knew that determining the brand’s total waste would be a challenge. The company works with many different fibers, which are sourced from all over the world. The company’s “Good Wool,” for instances, comes from a farm in Tasmania, and is scoured, spun and dyed at a mill in Italy before it is warehoused and sold around the world.
After a fiber is harvested and spun, it is sent to a factory where it is cut, dyed and trimmed. Reverse Resources, a software company that works with major apparel factories in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, found that 20 percent of the fabric used in the cut-make-trim phase is ultimately thrown out.

Bags upon bags of textiles fill the room.
Credit...John Taggart for The New York Times
Many retailers offer denim recycling programs, but not for scraps.

Credit...John Taggart for The New York Times
Unsellable material gets turned into shoddy or shredded fibers used for stuffing and insulation.
Credit...John Taggart for The New York Times
Linda Greer, the founder of the Clean by Design program and a former toxicologist at the N.R.D.C., has advised many garment and dyeing factories in China. She said that brands frequently reject fabrics because they don’t match the desired shade exactly.
“I’ve seen so many ‘weeping piles’ of miscolored fabric,” Ms. Greer said. “Sometimes they can touch it up. And sometimes they throw it away.”
Once a garment is complete, it can present another problem: excess inventory. In some cases those garments are incinerated, which prevents them from being resold at a discount, Mr. Rinassen said. 

Stephanie Benedetto founded Queen of Raw, an online marketplace for dead-stock fabrics and a FabScrap partner, after seeing how much manufactured material was sitting in warehouses ($120 billion worth, by her estimate). At that volume, she said, waste isn’t just environmentally irresponsible — it’s “a C.F.O. issue.”
Apparently, also, a marketing issue. Fashion companies have been quick to invest in environmentally friendly marketing. There have been capsule collections derived from natural fibers like orange pulp (Salvatore Ferragamo), pineapple leaves (H&M), grape skin (& Other Stories) and mushrooms (Stella McCartney), and a wide selection of recycled polyester made from fishing nets (Burberry) and beach-strewn plastic bottles (Adidas).
These usually amount to little more than P.R. gambits and short-term fixes.
Samantha MacBride, an assistant professor at Baruch College and a waste management professional, said that the ideas big brands implement often reflect a lack of understanding about waste management. 

The way to minimize trash, she said, isn’t by devising a green marketing strategy or using new technological fixes. “The key is to produce less,” she said.

The organization also accepts rolls of extra fabric from designers.
Credit...John Taggart for The New York Times

Standing on the FabScrap floor, it is impossible not to feel overwhelmed by the enormous pile of trash.
Ms. Schreiber noted that the bags in the facility were “almost irrelevant in the scheme of what is probably generated.” None of the overstocked garments languishing in company warehouses are here. Nor are the huge quantities of fabric that are tossed from the factory floor.

Beneath the heap, seven volunteers slowly and manually sorted by material every scrap that came in. They inspected and removed labels and rubbed the fabric between their fingers. It could not have been further from the mechanized processes at a recycling plant, which employ feats of engineering — eddy currents, magnets and near-infrared scanners — to identify and categorize various types of metals, plastic and paper.
There is no technology in use that can detect the differences between, say, spandex and wool. “The infrastructure is lacking,” Ms. Schreiber said. “Like the fact that the sorting still all happens by hand is bonkers.”
The recycling processes are similarly decades behind. Today, there are a number of companies, like Evrnu and WornAgain, that are just beginning to recycle fibers, a process that involves shredding and dissolving the fibers into a pulp that can be respun into a new fabric.
Ms. Schreiber said that if clothing scraps were treated “as a waste-commodity stream, not a nonprofit-managed material, we would be further along in the tech.”

In the back corner of the warehouse is one of FabScrap’s two shops, where it sells many of the larger pieces its employees and volunteers find among the scraps. On any given day, some fashion students stop by, shopping and drawing inspiration from the ends of dead-stock rolls that are cheaper here than at fabric stores in the city.

Ray Cruz delivering fabric scraps to the FabScrap warehouse in Brooklyn.
Credit...John Taggart for The New York Times

Jasmine Velazquez, a fashion student at F.I.T., studied some green leather that she wanted to use for an upcoming assignment. “I’d rather buy leather from here than support the industry like that. Sustainability should be more important to me because I am a student,” she said.
In June, FabScrap opened a second shop, on a block in the garment district teeming with secondhand shops, and just a stone’s throw from F.I.T.

Camille Tagle, the director of reuse and partnership at FabScrap and a former evening wear designer at Pamella Roland, pointed out some of the special fabrics that filled the shelves. There were rolls of baby blue suede and white cotton with geometric fil coupé accents. Above the shelves were nearly full cones of thread in colors that evoked a Pantone guide.
“If it doesn’t match by a fraction of a shade, it’s out,” she said.
One piece in particular, a shawl’s length of pink crinkle chiffon with sequined flowers, caught her eye. Each flower had at least three or four colors arranged in a different pattern. “It takes a lot of time,” Ms. Tagle said. “A designer had to communicate all of those details to the mill.”
A steady traffic of students and hobbyists came in to peruse the shelves and scour the scrap bins. Olivia Koval, who is pursuing an M.F.A. in textiles at Parsons, left the shop with a tote bag full of mutilated jeans and denim scraps. She planned to overdye and felt them together to make a larger fabric.
“For people to feel inspired by something that was headed for the trash is really important for me,” Ms. Tagle said.

Since opening six months ago, the Chelsea store has served 4,800 customers. Next year, FabScrap plans to set up operations on the West Coast.
In spite of what she has built, Ms. Schreiber is measured about FabScrap’s success. “This is such a small group of self-selecting companies, and this is a very niche part of their waste stream,” she said. “That’s what’s so frustrating.”
Credit...John Taggart for The New York Times oa here

Monday, October 7, 2019

How to Sell, Donate or Recycle Your Stuff

If you are starting the new year by saying goodbye to some of your less-than-favorite possessions you might be wondering: Now what? Here’s how to get rid of it for good. 

If you’re like a lot of the people watching the new Netflix show, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” you have already looked around your home for things you want to get rid of. If you’ve already done the hard work of sorting through your belongings and culling what you do not need, great work!

If you want to give your home an organizational makeover, but aren’t sure how to start, consider signing up for our Tidy Home Challenge, which will walk you through each room of your home and give step-by-step instructions on how to neaten any space. (You will need to be an subscriber to sign up.)
If you already have bags of stuff that you do not want in your house any more, don’t succumb to the urge to take all the junk to the dump or leave it on the curb. Many items can be sold, donated or recycled, giving them another life that will be better for the environment and perhaps your pocketbook, too. Below are some options for how to dispense with the excess.

CreditOwen Franken for The New York Times
Only attempt to sell items — clothes, books, electronics, accessories, jewelry and toys — that are in good to excellent condition. Designer brands and jewels may fetch a tidy sum. But even lesser items might deliver you some pocket change.
Hold a stoop or yard sale. If you decide to go this route, brace yourself for the work ahead. Yard sales take planning and require at least a full day of your time. But they can also be fun, social and a good way to make money on items you might not otherwise sell. Here’s how to do it:
  • Pick a date.
  • Get permits from your city or town, if needed.
  • Visit other yard sales in the area to get a sense of local pricing.
  • Post signs around the neighborhood and on any local social media groups like Facebook or Nextdoor, if permitted.
  • Price all the items with stickers, and group like items together. Be reasonable in your pricing, as people come looking for bargains. Remember, the goal is to get rid of this stuff.
  • Make sure you have plenty of small bills, a calculator and a comfortable chair.
  • Sit back and enjoy the day.
  • Plan to donate anything left over at the end of your yard sale, unless you want to take it to the next level...
There are plenty of options for hosting a virtual stoop sale. Here are some options for where to try to sell your stuff online.
Tips for selling online
  • Be prepared to create a profile, manage the sale and eventually ship the items to buyers. (Facebook Marketplace, for example, allows buyers to find items close to their home, so you may be able to avoid the shipping hassle.)
  • Before you price items, do your homework. Look for similar items online to get an idea of what yours may be worth.
  • If you are selling jewelry, have it appraised first and make sure you are selling to a reputable company.
Check your local listings for nearby consignment shops, jewelers and resale shops.
  • Used bookstores buy books. Some buy CDs, vinyl and DVDs, too. Some stores can be quite selective, so give your local shop a call to see what they’re buying first.
  • Used record stores buy CDs and vinyl, assuming you can find one in your area.
  • Consignment shops will pay you a percentage of the retail price after the item is sold. Some consignment shops will sell jewelry, children’s toys and books and accessories.
  • Resale shops will pay you a set amount at the time that you bring in your items. So make sure you know the store’s policies before you arrive. Call and ask what sorts of items they want before you go.
  • Clothes should be clean and pressed and, ideally, in season.
  • If you are selling valuable items on consignment, make sure the store has insurance in the event of theft or fire.
  • Jewelers. Make sure jewelry is appraised, and only sell to a reputable jeweler, like one that is a member of a trade association like Jewelers of America.

    CreditAndriy Blokhin/Alamy
    Charities take all sorts of items, like books, household goods, kitchenwares, electronics, clothes and linens. So now is the time to sort your donate pile into different groups depending on where the items are going.
    Call the charity of your choice and see if you can arrange for a donation pickup or drop bags off at a donation center. Find out what sorts of items the charity will accept. Some charities accept items in poor condition for recycling, so even your worn and damaged clothes and linens may eligible for collection. This list is by no means exhaustive of the available charities that might take your stuff, but it will get you pointed in the right direction (Check that a charity is reputable before you give):
    • DonationTown, for example, offers an online directory of charities so you can pick the one of your choice in your area and schedule a pickup online.
    • PlanetAid has telltale yellow boxes around the country. Find one near you online.
    • Soles 4 Souls: Find drop off locations or ship your shoes to those in need.
    • Jackrabbit: Accepts your old running shoes that are sold to help farmers in Africa.
    Books and other media
    • Libraries: Call first to find out their policy for taking gently used books. Even libraries that do not generally take donations often have a collection day for annual book sales.
    • Operation Paperback: Donates books to troops overseas.
    Children’s books and toys
    • Schools and day cares. These centers often need used children’s books, particularly early readers. Day cares often take gently used books, toys and some children’s clothes, providing they are for pint-size kids. Call ahead to check what they need.
    • Second Chance Toys: Accepts donated plastic toys in some metropolitan areas.
    If you’re trading in a computer, remember to erase your hard drive first!
    • The World Computer Exchange: Drop off locations available around the country, or via mail.
    • Goodwill: In partnership with Dell Reconnect, the organization accepts electronic donations.
    Unexpired canned or packaged food

    CreditRichard Levine/Alamy
    Items that are too worn to reuse or donate can be recycled. Some items, regardless of their condition, like some cribs and stuffed animals, cannot be donated to charity. But before you put these things in the trash, see what can be recycled. Here are some options:
    You would be surprised how many people might want your discarded items, if the price is free.
    Deteriorated clothes
  • H&M: Recycles your old clothes in exchange for a discount on new ones.
  • Blue Jeans Go Green: Recycles old denim.
Used mattresses
  • Bye Bye Mattress
  • Earth 911
  • Local recycling centers: Check with your local community, or the E.P.A. website for options.
  • Best Buy: Offers trade-in programs to recycle electronics.
Hazardous substances
  • Local municipality: Latex paint and other dangerous substances must be disposed of properly. Check with your local municipality for waste recycling days.
  • PaintCare: Accepts unwanted paint for reuse, recycling or proper disposal in some states.
  • Habitat for Humanity: Accepts a variety of building materials, including old paint.
Almost anything and everything
  • Craigslist

Some items are destined for the landfill. If you are disposing of bulky items, check and see which ones can sit on the curb and which ones need to be collected or dropped off at the dump. Your town’s website should provide more clarity. Items that need special attention often include:
  • Batteries
  • Medication (expired or not)
  • Shredded paper (after you empty the office)
  • Wire hangers (although you can also bring them back to the cleaners)
  • Hazardous chemicals
  • Aerosol cans
  • Light bulbs

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