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16 December 2022

Take-back schemes: 7 brands that collect and recycle their own products

Take-back schemes are very effective in accelerating fashion's transition to a circular economy

At the moment less than 1% of all garments are recycled, while the rest is incinerated or landfilled. In order to improve sustainability, new EU directives aim to move fashion towards a new circular economy, where products and materials are kept in use for as long as possible, and as many as possible are regenerated, or recycled back into new products.
One of the main pillars of this new fashion business model is the take-back scheme which encourages producers to become responsible for the end of their product's life and increases customer awareness about sustainability and waste management.

How does the take-back scheme work? 

As the name suggests, the take-back scheme is an approach that promotes the take-back of products once customers no longer want them.

A take-back scheme involves the producer collecting the products either directly from consumers or by setting up take-back points. Take-back points often offer customers a discount or other incentives if they return the products to encourages customers to take responsibility for their own waste, as well as raise awareness about recycling and circular economy principles. Similar to loyalty programmes, this can be an effective way to keep consumers returning for future purchases.

Some brands are making it even easier for consumers to discover and take advantage of take back programmes by using QR codes on garments that launch a web-app, such as that provided by Certilogo to access information and start the take back process. The QR code can be used to trace the product's lifecycle and consumers can track what happens to their returned products. The secure tag also helps brands more efficiently sort items that are returned and makes it easier to sort identify brand products and ensure that items are regenerated correctly.

Once collected, the items are inspected for usability and damage, then cleaned and classified according to their material composition. Depending on the material and the take-back system, items can be reused or undergo recycling or up-cycling. For example, they can be recycled into new products, used as raw materials in other industries, or resold in the second-hand market. 

Benefits of this approach

The take-back programs have numerous benefits for producers. For example:

  • Improving sustainability and reducing the environmental impact: They help reduce the consumption of resources and the amount of pollution linked to the production of new items. At the same time, they reduce the waste sent to landfills.
     
  • Reducing costs associated with product disposal: As companies reuse items, waste management becomes leaner, faster, and less expensive. Also for consumers, the management of used garments becomes easier, as the responsibility passes to the producer.
     
  • Increasing customer loyalty and brand engagement: Considering that many customers are more likely to buy products from companies that demonstrate environmental responsibility, take-back schemes are a way to build trust between them and the brand, thus leading to improved customer relationships.
     
  • Creating new business opportunities: take-back schemes can open up new possibilities for up-cycling or reselling. This might even lead to additional revenue streams for producers who are able to repurpose items creatively.
Woman packing a box with used clothes

Best take-back initiatives in the fashion industry

As more and more companies turn towards sustainable practices, take-back schemes are becoming increasingly popular, even in fast fashion. Here are brands that are already using them to make sure their products are recycled or reused instead of going to landfill:

MUD Jeans
The sustainable denim company offers a take-back scheme called "Lease A Jeans". Customers can take their old jeans back at the end of their life cycle and receive a discount on the next purchase. Then, paying a monthly fee, they can lease new items they can keep or swap with others.

Allbirds
The sustainable footwear manufacturer runs a resale platform called "ReRun".  As the brand says, ReRun is the marketplace «of slightly imperfect and gently used products». In the platform, customers can find used shoes in perfect condition at a lower price.

Reformation
This US-based fashion brand has a program called "Ref Recycling", in which customers can return used clothes and get credits to buy new items. The returned clothes are then recycled into new products or sent to charity. Moreover, this program is in partnership with ThredUP, which donates €‌6 for every item to the nonprofit organisation Circular Fashion Fund (CFF).

Patagonia
Patagonia is one of the leading companies in take-back schemes. They provide a repair program for their products, as well as a take-back system called "Worn Wear”, in which customers can send back used clothes and get discounts on new items.

Adidas
The German sports brand has launched a take-back scheme, called "Choose to Give Back program", in partnership with ThreadUP. Customers can return any product - even those from other brands - which will then be recycled into new materials or resold. As written on the brand's official website, consumers must generate «a Clean Out Kit prepaid shipping label through the app» and use it to send the items, including their used sports gear. «If an item is not in a condition to be resold it will go through ThredUPs select network of textile reuse partners. In exchange for sending in their old gear Creator Club members will earn rewards».

Zara
Zara has a clothing collection program in collaboration with local non-profit organisations. At the moment, the collection service is available in their stores but they are working to bring it online through pick-up at home or delivery points. Customers can take back any kind of item (clothing, footwear,  accessories, household linen), from any brand, even if they are not in perfect condition.

H&M
Since 2013 H&M have a clothing collection program similar to that of Zara. Customers can bring any clothes or textiles, by any brand and in any condition, to the brand's stores and they receive a voucher for a new purchase. Once collected, the items are divided into three categories - re-wearable, reusable, and recyclable - and sent to a new lifecycle.