Second-hand clothes recycling and fashion sustainability

May 7, 2023

Due to the fast-growing global economy, the world today is facing major environmental challenges related to overproduction and waste. The fast fashion industry plays a crucial role in contributing to the huge amounts of waste that lead to various environmental and social problems worldwide, some of which are already dramatic in the industry's production chains. In recent years, awareness of the seriousness of this situation has increased worldwide. As a result, NGOs are putting more pressure on governments and companies to promote sustainability and reduce waste. Various players in the fashion industry are increasingly paying attention to sustainability in fashion along the value chains. The question that generally arises is how companies can have a positive impact on the environment and serve the common good at the same time. Second-hand clothes recycling is one of the most effective ways to tackle some of these problems.

Fast fashion vs. slow fashion

Did you know that fast fashion is the second biggest polluter in the world? Only the oil industry is more harmful to our environment. Fast fashion is responsible for 1.2 trillion tonnes of carbon emissions worldwide, which means the sector produces more carbon emissions than air travel and shipping combined. Fast fashion is also responsible for 20% of the world's wastewater production. Every year, 93 million cubic meters of water are used for production. This amount can supply around 5 million people per year, which could benefit countries suffering from water scarcity and on the brink of "Day Zero." But it's not just the ecological impact that we should consider. The social factor is equally important. What is sold cheaply must be produced cheaply somewhere, usually in China, Bangladesh, and other Southeast Asian countries, where people work under terrible conditions. Unfortunately, child labor, wages far below the minimum wage, forced overtime, no social security, and the violation of human rights are still a reality in these countries.

We need to scrutinize fashion more consciously and pay more attention to sustainability in production. Many brands are entering the sustainable fashion industry and are committed to fair trade. They are focused on providing more humane working conditions and reducing poverty levels as much as possible. From an ecological point of view, some companies plant a tree for every item of clothing purchased, offsetting their negative climate footprint. They explicitly focus on planting trees in rainforests, which are being destroyed for conventional cotton fields, reducing overall biodiversity to a critical level. This can also apply to the production of organic cotton, but at least fewer pollutants are released, and the environment suffers less damage than with conventional farming.

Waste management ranking levels

In recent years, the concept of sustainability in fashion has gained momentum, which is fortunate. In the context of the circular economy, the recycling of old clothes can play an important role in reducing the amount of waste produced by the textile and fashion industry. However, reducing waste is always of greater importance according to the hierarchy of waste management, for example, by not overproducing in the first place or reusing old clothes. Fortunately, the latter is increasingly reflected in the second-hand trend. Producing durable clothes promotes this trend. The DIY (remanufacture) trend can also be promoted, for example, through repair tutorials.

Textile reusability: old clothes and second-hand clothes recycling

The recycling of clothing refers to the reuse of recyclable materials from worn items of clothing. They are sorted by color after being handed in at the shop or in certain containers, broken down into individual fibers, and spun into new yarn, which is then used to make new garments. Unfortunately, even the so-called recycling processes are often not entirely sustainable. Not only are worn clothes from containers used in these processes, but sometimes brand new goods that come from overproduction or returns from fast-moving collections are also included. This happens despite German laws about goods recycling, which forbid the destruction or recycling of unused goods in Germany. Products are divided into A, B, and C goods. Usually, only goods without any or with only slight damage (A and B goods) have the chance for a second life, such as in the case of sales in second-hand shops, new yarn production, or the shredding process. The majority of goods (C goods) are sent to incinerators and destroyed. Unfortunately, this method is a widespread solution to "recycle" discarded clothes. These are shipped to Romania, Poland, and other countries to be sold as fuel, where quite a few chemicals are released into nature.

Supply chain cycle

There are numerous initiatives that aim to make clothing and fashion products, or their components, reusable. In addition, well-known fashion brands are increasingly adopting the concept of sustainable fashion as part of their environmental responsibility. Selling old clothes and used garments at cheaper prices ideally reduces textile production and thus makes the fashion industry more sustainable by counteracting overproduction. An example of this is the company F&P Stock Solution and its solutions for recycling clothing as its core business. On the company's catalog page, you can find various offers for wholesale of old clothes at reasonable prices.

Sustainable fulfillment with MOODJA

As a 3PL fulfillment service provider, MOODJA is situated as a key, well-connected link at the end of our customers' long supply chains. Here, we play a special role because the final fulfillment often shows whether and how sustainably the upstream actors acted in the overall process and which ethical values can be communicated to the end consumers in a justified way.

At MOODJA, we are committed to actively promoting sustainability in our spheres of influence. Sustainability is part of our core business strategy. In addition, we implement fair working conditions and strive for overall climate-neutral fulfillment. Our first sustainability report is currently in development. Operationally, we are happy to process our customers' returns and prepare the returned goods in such a way that they can be resold as A-grade goods if possible. From a sustainability perspective, the return rate should, of course, be kept as low as possible to save additional climate-relevant resources. Keeping general transport volumes in check should be briefly mentioned here.

As the demand for fair brands and products is continuously increasing, our holistic endeavor is to be as sustainable a link as possible in the value chains of our customers and to offer sustainable, high-quality, customized e-commerce fulfillment for fashion and lifestyle brands. It is essential to work together in a partnership. Are you ready to make a positive impact as a fashion brand? Then join us on the transformative path to a more sustainable fashion and logistics industry!

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