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M&S hopes recycling scheme will reduce raw material costs

Marks & Spencer will use its in-store clothing recycling scheme to recover fibre in the face of volatile raw material costs, the UK’s biggest clothing retailer told Drapers this week.

The Shwopping initiative, which launched on April 26, lets customers return unwanted clothing to any UK branch of M&S. Partner Oxfam collects and sorts the clothing, which is then resold, reused or recycled through its network.

M&S head of sustainability Mike Barry told Drapers that while the scheme had “monetary value” for Oxfam and would bode well for M&S’s corporate social responsibility standing, it would use the scheme to recover cotton, wool, cashmere and polyester. 

Barry said: “What we’re looking for are pure waste streams such as wool, cashmere, polyester or cotton – wherever there’s pure raw material we can break down or turn back into clothing. It’s about securing raw materials for the future.”

Barry estimated it could take two to three years to fully incorporate “closed loop raw materials”– where recovered material is used as a resource – into M&S product and declined to give targets.

He said: “We’re not stating it as a business case just yet, but we already have done work on recovering cashmere with Oxfam. When you create critical mass and smart people design and innovate, you can introduce closed-loop materials.”

Last December, M&S sold its first such product – a £149 women’s Autograph winter coat. Unusable in-store returns and products handed in to Oxfam via the M&S Oxfam Clothes Exchange were sent to an Italian fabric producer, with products reduced to fibre, cleaned and then sold on to M&S suppliers. 

Dilys Williams, head of London College of Fashion’s Centre for Sustainability, which is working with M&S on the Shwopping scheme, said unstable raw material costs are forcing retailers to rethink their supply chains to improve efficiency. There is the beginning of a “sea change” among high street retailers, she said.

“Retailers are thinking more about resources used and what consumers dispose of. You need the ground-breakers and the innovators, the [recovery] infrastructure and a [consumer] culture of change to really change things,” she added.

Fast-fashion chain H&M is also looking to “close the loop on fibre” and explore how waste could become a resource, according to reports last month.

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