/ Shopping, Sustainability

What do you do with your old clothes?

John Lewis will start buying back old and unwanted clothing in a drive to reduce waste. What do you do with your unwanted or worn-out clothes?

For the first time ever in the UK, a major retailer will take back old and unwanted clothing from its customers and reward them for it.

Customers will return the clothing – including old socks and underwear – via courier using an app and will receive gift cards in return, John Lewis has said.

The move is aimed at reducing the 300,000 tonnes of ‘fashion waste’ that currently goes into UK landfill every year. The cost of landfilling clothing and household textiles is estimated to stand at £82m a year.

Martyn White, John Lewis’s sustainability manager, said the move is an extension of its existing policy for other items:

‘We already take back used sofas, beds and large electrical items such as washing machines and either donate them to charity or reuse and recycle parts and want to offer a service for fashion products.’

Items taken back will either be resold, repaired and re-sold (though not in John Lewis shops) or recycled.

A trial of the scheme has seen John Lewis pay £4 for a pair of broken cashmere gloves bought in 2015, £8 for a pencil skirt bought in 2014 and £11 for a top bought in 2016.

Closet clearance

The average UK household owns about £4,000 worth of clothing, a third of which hasn’t been worn for over a year, usually because it doesn’t fit anymore, the company said.

That adds up to about £10bn of unworn clothing clogging up our wardrobes, as Mel Train discussed on Which? Convo earlier in the year.

So could the move increase our closet space, as well as reduce waste?

In our poll, 69 per cent of you said you donated your old clothes to charity, while 17 per cent of you admitted to keeping them in your wardrobe.

Changing habits

I wonder if financial incentives, like those proposed by John Lewis, will encourage more people to clear out their closets – and to return the clothes to the retailer rather than to a charity shop.

Personally, I often end up throwing worn-out clothes directly in the bin (and not even recycling them) and keeping clothes I never wear in my drawers and wardrobe.

This is for a few reasons: I’m not aware of any clothes recycling bins near where I live to chuck the knackered clothes in. And I also presume that charity shops won’t want worn or damaged clothes.

And with clothes that are perfectly fine but I never wear: I’ve been meaning to take them down to a charity shop for ages, but it’s quite far away and I always seem to forget.

So if the app and courier service proposed by John Lewis really make the process faster and easier, I’d probably use it.

What do you think? Would something like this change the way you dispose of unwanted clothing?


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Most of my clothes are well worn before I dispose of them. I’ve occasionally taken a suit to a charity shop. There is no John Lewis store anywhere near me, so that’s not an option.

wavechange – “once they have a minimum of £50 worth of clothing to sell a courier will collect their products within 3 hours”

Thanks both, but I don’t have much clothing bought from John Lewis.

I’m hoping I’ll add on a little lost weight so the overlarge trousers and suits in the cupboard will once again fit. I maintain that my older clothes are retained for gardening and use in the workshop, but recognise I’ll have several decade of hard work to do if they are ever to wear out.

I realise I have far too many clothes. Many are gifts on birthdays, Christmases and Fathers Days going back years. You can only wear so many clothes, and a few just become favourites.

I have a large number of clothes but wear all of them in rotation. Some are getting rather old now but are still serviceable. Eventually they get relegated to gardening and DIY duties after which they are only fit for the bin. The Council has a new textile recycling service with a fortnightly collection [together with small electrical appliances] which I might start to use. Unwearable clothes and worn out household material can still be included as they are sold to a rag merchant. Charity shops accumulate a lot of unsaleable items and they also dispose of textiles to a rag merchant.

I throw my old clothes away, but I do wear them until they’re on their last legs. I think I should do more with them (but I don’t think I could donate them). Maybe I could turn them into pillows or something crafty. Any suggestions?

Charity shops take any thing because they bag it up and sell it by weight for recycling. I found out when I was clearing my mother’s house and wasn’t sure if some things would be good enough. They said it didn’t matter because they could use everything, even old underwear!

Anything wearable I give to a charity shop, anything not I recycle.

Me too.

Charity shops for discarded clothes abound in all our cities.

I think John Lewis recycling clothing scheme is brilliant – well done. All clothing shops/shops selling clothing (including all those now online) should run similar recycling services, with funds donated to Charities. I am still wearing some on my 1960s gear and use mine for gardening etc., until totally unuseable, then either to Charity shops or in Council recycling.

Joy Clancy says:
23 June 2018

What are John Lewis going to do with the clothes? I hope that they don’t get ‘exported’ to countries in Africa in the mistaken belief that they are helping people who live there. Quite the reverse – it puts people out of jobs. Rwanda has recently occurred Trump’s wrath by banning the importation of second hand clothes from the US.

Phil says:
23 June 2018

When utterly exhausted my old clothes get used as rags then used to light the fire. Otherwise natural fibres such as wool and cotton can be composted.

I have three tiers of clothes disposal. I take items that are in very good condition to our local Sue Ryder charity shop and things that are a bit more worn ( but still wearable) I put in the big ”Planet Aid” box in our surgery car park. Everything else that’s really shabby (probably about 5% of my wardrobe)I chuck in the household waste bin every few months. Thus I probably won’t use the JL recycling scheme although I do think it’s a good idea