The take-back systems debate…

Take-back systems offer a solution to the problem of waste in fast fashion. The fast fashion industry presents itself as problematic from an environmental perspective as a result of its excessive waste. As it stands, an estimated 70% of clothing is left untouched. The reasoning for this is suggested to be through fast fashion’s removal of the prior seasons of fashion. Furthermore, with trends rapid turnover, consumption of new, cheap, short-life clothing has introduced a mass problem of waste.

To solve this, clothing brands including H&M and ZARA, have introduced take-back systems as a solution to waste. Take-back systems operate through the collection and recycling of unwanted clothing from retail stores. This is an effective strategic movement to fast fashion brands. Take back systems enable the green consumer to continue to fill their wardrobes whilst removing the guilt of waste with the prospect of giving their clothing new life. This, as a result, provides fast fashion with the opportunity to maintain their current business model of mass production, whilst simultaneously improving brand image.

Is this a solution to the problems of fast fashion?

Whilst this is an incredible step in embracing responsibility for mass production of clothing, this is not a solution. With an estimate of 150 billion garments being made annually, to fix fashion, brands should be encouraged to consider the root of the problem, not the management of the outcome. Take-back systems are a vital and important step towards environmental responsibility in fashion, however, consumers need to be aware of the ability of the collected clothing to be reused.

Moreover, the ability for take-back systems to provide a solution to waste in fast fashion can further be questioned through consumer opinions. Consumers often recognize the quality of fast fashion, and resultingly, consider clothing to have too little value to be recycled.  Research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation also highlights that despite many businesses accepting responsibility to take back clothing, only 20% re-enters the clothing market due to lack of demand.

What can you do?

  • Support the movement to the circular economy. Take back systems, although flawed, are an important milestone for the fast fashion industry to take. 
  • Be aware of Green Washing: many businesses are acknowledging the increased demand for environmentally conscious production. However, in many cases, it is easy for a business to appear green with little action taken.
  • Buy less. The mass consumption of unneeded clothing is filling your wardrobe! The solution does not need to be to give it back for recycling, but instead, to buy less.
  • Buy quality. Retail consumption is not necessarily bad if it is of quality. Clothing of higher quality lasts longer and has a greater chance of extended ownership through higher quality. 

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