I:COLLECT – TEXTILES AND SHOES TAKE-BACK SYSTEM
WHEN: Starting 2009
WASTE MANAGEMENT HIERARCHY: Recycling: Reuse – Reprocessing
TYPE OF INSTRUMENT: Awareness / Promotional
WASTE STREAMS: Textiles Waste and Municipal Waste
About: The I:Collect (I:Co) organization is a global waste collection network set up in 2009 that has implemented programs for the recycling of textile waste for the first time in Europe.
It is also a subsidiary of SOEX, with the world’s first shoe recycling plant from SOEX in Wolfen, Germany.
I:CO (I:Collect) take-back system is based on the collection of used clothing and shoes at a retailer’s point of sale, which are given a new life afterwards, through reuse or recycling. Partners’ locations are situated around the world (mainly in Europe and North America).
The collected used items, accepted by stores irrespective of the producing brand, are carefully sorted and directed for reuse or recycle purposes, ensuring maximum reutilization of the valuable materials. In this way, the system contributes to a win-win scheme for all parties involved.
Wearable items are redirected to new beneficiaries – extending thus their lifecycle.
Unwearable items are subject to new chance destination, such as repurposed into other products like cleaning cloths or recycled into fibers for insulation, carpet padding, toy stuffing and even new clothing.
At present, the organization collects clothing and shoes in more than 60 countries.
Photo Source: Pixabay
The main objective of I:CO network is to implement the circular processes in the textiles sector, by using existing recycling technologies and its extensive global network, both components making possible positive changes in this industry.
For reaching its objective, I:CO has developed a proper alternative collection and sorting system:
a) The alternative collection system is based on rewards offered to consumers and takes place directly at a retailer’s store point of sale (POS). Clothing and shoes are collected in the same place where new ones are purchased. This global system allows fashion companies to take on responsibility for their products, as well as end consumers be motivated to prevent textile waste. 
b) Professional sorting (made only by selected and certified sorting partners) is the basis of sustainably processing clothing and shoes. Considering that „Every Bit Counts”, every single item received is sorted manually and categorized by I:CO’s partner facilities, based on up to 350 factors. This is done according to the applicable waste hierarchy, in which reuse comes before recycling.
The main resources are the network retail stores and people involved in the processes chain.
Through partners’ websites and on-site support, customers are educated to actively participate to closed loop production cycle, where goods can be reprocessed and reused several times. Also, each customer can help the community and the planet be cleaner, simply by bringing used (and cleaned) clothes and shoes at the store where they are buying new products.
Collected waste: discarded shoes, belts, bags and clothing from people.
Through all its activity, I:CO network reduces the waste, preserves the resources and protects the environment:
-> Clothing: the recovered fibers are spun into yarn and can be integrated into the supply chains of I:CO’s partners. I:CO currently organize this for innovative denim projects.
-> Shoes: the shoe recycling plant enables for the first time to close production cycles. New shoe soles can for example be created from the rubber granules.
I:CO has collection points all over the world:
- Main 2014 figures: 2,000 employees which processed around 700 tons of used items every day in more than 90 countries.
- Main 2017 figures: about 60 retail partners in 65 countries, including Levi’s, The North Face and Forever 21. H&M is its biggest partner.
Also, for every returned kilogram of shoes, linen, clothing and other textile items, the partner companies of I: CO donate 2 eurocents to a charity fund and once that fund reaches to 1,000 euro, the amount is paid for a charitable project.
Urban metabolism relevance
At global level, textile waste represents about 5% of total waste. It is estimated that the fashion industry is scattering between 10 and 20% of the textile materials it processes.
Also, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, less than 1 percent of all the clothing we produce is being recycled back into new clothing.
The basis for the growing textile recycling industry is the textile industry itself. The textile industry has evolved into a $1 trillion industry globally, comprising in clothing, as well as furniture and mattress material, linens, draperies, cleaning materials, leisure equipment and many other items.
The main environmental benefits of recycling textiles (reusing fibers and even fabrics in textiles manufacturing process) are:
– Decreases landfill space requirements, bearing in mind that synthetic fiber products do not decompose and that natural fibers may release greenhouse gasses
– Avoided use of virgin fibers
– Reduced consumption of energy and water
– Pollution avoidance
– Lessened demand for dyes.
Under such circumstances, initiatives like I:CO are more than welcomed. Reuse and recycling of clothing and shoes saves resources and allows valuable raw materials to be reprocessed, helping to protect the environment and, thus, representing the grounds of a circular economy in the textile industry:
a) Reuse – from an ecological viewpoint, it is best to reuse clothing and shoes. Wearable items are therefore kept and sold as second-hand goods under I:CO programs.
b) Close the loop – the take-back system offers a resource-efficient and economical solution and is as simple as it is effective. Fashion houses and retailers collect clothing and shoes from their customers in their stores or online. I:CO then helps organize the logistics, sorting and transfer of the items to the various recycling loops.
– “Closed Loop” Recycling – some unwearable items remain in a closed loop within the textile industry and can be used for production of new clothes or shoes (based on the collaboration with various partners on transformational projects).
– „Open Loop” Recycling – through various industries:
o Clothing: after separating the material, I:CO organizes the industrial recycling of Post-Consumer Waste (PCW). The recycled fibers are reused for products in various industries (insulation material for the automotive and construction industries).
o Shoes: SOEX (the world’s 1st shoe recycling plant) makes possible to mechanically disassemble all shoe types into their components and derive usable secondary raw materials from them. The materials received by the recycling can be used to manufacture new products for other industries.
Also, I:CO conducts “Circularity Projects” with partners to explore other recycling options and investigates possible collaboration with other companies from various industries.
I:CO is a respected global solutions provider and innovator for collection, reuse and recycling of used clothing and shoes, its worldwide take-back system and logistics network making it unique in the textile industry.
Also, I:CO promotes, under its SOEX affiliation, the development of innovative recycling methods and projects, and works closely with international research institutes and recycling companies.
The collaboration with SOEX is mainly based on the world’s first recycling footwear of all types.
The recycling system can mechanically disassemble all shoe types into their components, and to then derive from them usable secondary raw materials such as rubber, leather or foam.
The innovative system provides a truly sustainable solution for all unwearable shoes.
In addition, the in-store collection concept promoted by I:CO is innovative and cost-effective, engaging the consumers by offering a reward incentive, drives store traffic and sales, and provides global reach.
Innovative processes regarding preparation for recycling are, also, targeted by I:CO. Material identification and separation is a vital part of the recycling process. In order to increase efficiency, I:CO supports technical innovation, e.g. automatic identification methods.
Engaged participatory processes
I:CO launched a creative business model that can boost recycling and provide an environmentally attractive option for both retailers and consumers. The large participatory process is present in each segment of process chain:
1. Consumers are engaged in the process to bring in the participating stores their used clothing or shoes in any quantity (unlimited number of items), for which they receive a reward incentive – usually, a single coupon per day for all brought items. Collection can be carried out using collection bins individually designed, according to the partner’s wishes. Consumers are informed and trained about the program’s rules both on I:CO platform website, as well as on partner’s websites and on-site.
2. Local partners are involved in the procedure regarding collection and transport to the nearest sorting and recycling facility, which is individually tailored to the needs and processes of the retail partner – in more than 60 countries. Precise, high-quality sorting and evaluation according to the international waste hierarchy of reuse before recycling is the hallmark of I:CO selected, certified sorting facilities. Every item of clothing and pair of shoes is sorted by hand and categorized based on its next best possible use.
3. Among the major brands participating to I:CO take-back system as project partners (retailers) are: Adidas, Adler, American Eagle, C&A, Calzedonia, Columbia, Forever 21, Guess, H&M, Levi’s, NewYorker, The North Face, Timberland.
Also, during last 2 years, I:CO participated at two important events, which brought together influential fashion industry decision makers:
– Copenhagen Fashion Summit in May 2018, where I:CO presented sustainable solutions to the audience. Due to the urgent need to accelerate sustainability in the fashion industry, Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2018 introduced an exhibition space called the “Innovation Forum” to feature new, sustainable solution platforms. This new component of the Summit enables fashion companies to meet the most noteworthy sustainable solution providers, such as I:CO.
– Copenhagen Fashion Summit in May 2017, when I:CO joined the “Make Fashion Circular” (a 3-year initiative), founded on the occasion of this event. The goal is based on 3 key principles: clothes that are made to be made again, from safe and renewable materials, and business models that mean they are used for longer.
By integrating the common efforts of stakeholders involved, I:CO aims at making positive changes in sustainable designs, manufacturing and consumer habits.
Sustainability and replicability
I:CO system is a simple solution for increasing clothes recycling while generating brand loyalty and store visits. At present, I-CO is collecting clothing and shoes in more than 60 countries.
In Europe, I:CO can be found in Germany (headquarters), United Kingdom and France, and the other world main centers are in the USA, Japan and China. By collaborating with retailers with large shopping store networks, I:CO is enabling its partners to close the loop on textiles worldwide and achieve their corporate visions.
I:CO take-back system is present in department stores, footwear shops, fashion discounters, sporting goods stores or shopping centers.
The I:CO program is very successful, being constantly extended to new brands and stores which try to include it in their sustainability plans. During the last year, important partnerships have been concluded, out of which we mention :
a) Partnership with „GUESS” company, on its wardrobe recycling initiative. The in-store collection program called “RESOURCED” is a nationwide program in the USA, which encourages customers to recycle their clothing and shoes. In exchange for bringing in five or more items to USA retailer stores, customers receive 15% off a full-priced purchase in-store or online.
b) Cooperation with „La Maison 1.2.3” (French ladies’ fashion brand). Through this initiative, customers can bring in their disused clothing at all 1.2.3 branches in France, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland and receive a voucher of 10% on their next purchase in return.
c) One of the most important partnerships concluded in 2018 is with the Swiss initiative WALDB (World Apparel & Footwear Life Cycle Assessment Database), for measuring the effects of sustainable concepts on the environment: collecting data about the value chain of clothing and footwear in the fashion industry to make the product life cycle of a garment clearly visible. It is the goal to optimize the ecological footprint within the value chain based on these data sets. With this analysis, conclusions can be drawn about the effect on the environment. The data contains all sectors, from the materials used to the supply chain. For I:CO, this partnership is another step towards improving sustainability in the fashion industry.
d) Under partnership with kids’ fashion brand „BRANSHES” (160 shops and online shops throughout Japan), a garment collection with I:CO at select BRANSHES stores started from March 2018. It is the 1st fashion brand in Japan that collects throughout the year, with expanding number of participating stores in the future.
e) SOEX and I:CO launch world’s first recycling system for all footwear types. Every year, millions of tonnes of used shoes end up in landfill sites or incineration plants, resulting in loss of valuable raw materials and natural resources. Every day, tens of thousands of used shoes are delivered to SOEX’s sorting and recycling plant in Wolfen, Germany:
– A large part of these are in good condition and can be worn again. They are distributed and sold around the world as secondhand products.
– About ¼ of the shoes no longer fit for use and the need for them to be disposed of professionally.
f) Partnership with Columbia Sportswear’s ReThreads Clothing and Shoes Recycling Program Supports National Charities.
g) Partnership with C&A (which expanded the “We Take it Back” program also in Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland). Customers bringing old clothes and shoes receive a 15% discount voucher for your next purchase. By 2020, C&A plans to offer this return opportunity in all its 18 European retail countries and in Brazil, Mexico and China. Since 2012, C&A has been offering its customers in the Netherlands an option for their unwanted clothes. During that period, C&A Netherlands collected 278,000 kg of clothing in collaboration with I:CO ensuring these items will be reused or recycled.
Take-back system is a service rendered at retailer’s point of sale, based on accepting no longer needed clothing and shoes and rewarding customers with an incentive (coupon for new products bought from the store). This encourages customers to use textiles more sustainably and to make a difference in their lives and communities. The system is so successful that it has been welcomed by large retailers and well-known clothing and footwear companies that are interested in developing sustainable activities and lower their environmental impact.
The progressive increase in textile waste is due to “fast fashion” phenomenon, which implies changing fashion and styles in an alarming rate.
The importance of recycling textiles is increasingly being recognized. Over 80 billion garments are produced annually, worldwide.
Once ending in landfills, natural fibers can take hundreds of years to decompose. They may release methane and CO2 gas into the atmosphere. Additionally, synthetic textiles are designed not to decompose. In the landfill, they may release toxic substances into groundwater and surrounding soil.
Also, almost 150 million tonnes of clothing and shoes are sold worldwide every year. Most of them end up in landfills or are incinerated instead of being reused or recycled, wasting valuable resources and causing harm to the environment. Key reasons for this are low consumer awareness and urgency and a lack of collection structures in many countries. The traditional linear supply chain based on the “take-make-waste” business model is unsustainable.
I:CO offers a sustainable reuse-recycling alternative instead. However, although recycling is a very efficient process, it is more responsible to change consumption habits, by reducing it.
The information presented above was taken from public sources, and assessed by UrbanWINS experts according to the project requirements, field research, deductions and analytical process. Key assumptions and projections may deviate from the opinions presented by author, this may typically be the result of differing time horizons, methodologies, contexts or other factors.
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