Category 18 April 2019

Providing consumers with an incentive for collecting and recycling old clothes

Being the leading retailer of clothing, household products and food in the United Kingdom, Marks & Spencer (M&S) started the initiative ‘shwopping’ (swap + shopping) to promote the recycling and reuse of clothes, while also reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill. Consumers receive a voucher for a discount of £5 upon returning a bag full of old clothes to their local M&S or Oxfam store. Oxfam can then reuse these clothes either by, directly reselling them, reprocessing them into restyled garments or selling them in bulk for secondary uses.

The challenge

Annually 1 billion clothing items are sent to landfill in the United Kingdom. Current landfill capacities are limited to handle waste in such quantities and there is a need to find ways to promote the recycling of used clothing items. Following this need, M&S aims to recycle as much clothing as it sells each year.

The innovation

M&S launched the shwopping initiative by signing Joanna Lumley, a British actress and celebrity, as the campaign face and Oxfam as the implementation partner. Consumers are offered a discount of £5 upon dropping a bag full of old clothes, jewellery and underwear (as these items are valuable to Oxfam as they are in high demand in poorer countries) off at a shwopping box at a participating M&S and Oxfam store.  The bag must include at least one item with the M&S label, and they can then use the £5 voucher  as long as they spend £35 or more in a participating store.

All collected clothes are given to Oxfam, who can then resell the clothes online, at festivals or at overseas partner stores such as Frip Ethique in Senegal. Clothes which cannot be worn again are sold to designers for restyling into new collections. When the old garments can neither be made into new garments or resold, they can be sold in bulk to reprocessing companies where they are reused for different functions such as mattress filling, carpet underlay or as a last resort, incineration. The revenues Oxfam generates go towards their worldwide projects to reduce poverty (e.g. occupational training of HIV-infected persons in Zimbabwe).

Why did it work?

High volumes of clothing waste are sent annually to landfill in the United Kingdom increasing the burden on the country’s landfill capacities. The textile retailers are in an ideal position to educate consumers about the challenges of clothing waste and involve them in implementing a recycling solution that aims not only to reward their recycling behaviour but also to promote social responsibility among them.  The M&S incentive scheme emerged from the need to link the initiatives to recycle clothing waste with the global poverty alleviation efforts of charity organisations such as Oxfam. The design of the M&S shwopping scheme, allows consumers to better understand the link between their actions towards helping textile waste and recovery, protecting the environment and helping the poor in poverty stricken countries.

Further deployment

The M&S shwopping initiative has achieved recognition within the textile and clothing retail sector. Other competitor retailers are also designing similar initiatives, such as H&M’s ‘Conscious Collection’ discount scheme. The maturity of this eco-innovation is estimated to be beyond 9 on GML scale.

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