The apparel industry creates significant waste along its value chain. The majority of this occurs when we make clothes and when we throw them away. Less than 1% of material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing, representing a loss of more than $100 billion worth of materials each year [SOURCE: Ellen MacArthur Foundation].
In 2017, C&A committed to sending zero waste to landfill from C&A stores, distribution centres, and offices by 2025. Our approach to reducing waste is grounded in the idea that we must shift our industry from a model of ‘take, make, use, and dispose’ to one where every resource is used and then repurposed, again and again. Our vision is to help enable a restorative circular economy, where nothing is wasted in the creation or disposal of our clothing. Products are designed and developed with their next use in mind, using pure materials and safe chemicals. Social justice, including safeguarding health and safety and fair labour, water stewardship, and the use of renewable energy, are also an integral part of the circular model.
The transition to a fully circular apparel industry will take many years. To truly create the pathway to a new normal, we must reimagine much of what we do. However, there are various steps we can take today to start reducing our impact straight away, such as in-store waste management initiatives and the use of recycled materials in our clothing. In 2018, we continued scaling up our efforts in these areas.
Consistency in managing unsold inventory
As part of our ongoing commitment to responsibly manage unsold inventory, in 2018 we began making improvements to the management structure and processes for dealing with unsold items in a consistent way across our regions. For instance, in Europe, where we operate in 18 countries, we are developing a unified European approach to handling unsold inventory and emphasizing reuse wherever possible. We have also begun working with our other three regions to determine the feasibility of greater consistency for handling our unsold inventory and contributing to our global zero waste goal.
Starting our journey with recycled fibres
In 2017, C&A Europe started taking meaningful steps to increase use of recycled fibres in our collection. We used recycled polyester in outerwear and blouses, recycled nylon in lingerie and have continued using recycled cotton in denim. In 2018, C&A Europe sold more than 300,000 items containing recycled polyester and 95,000 pieces containing recycled cotton in both Mens’ and Ladies’ denim.
In-store take-back and recycling facilities for customers
Following its successful launch in the Netherlands, we rolled out our in-store take-back programme to additional retail markets, as well as a pilot in Brazil that has continued to evolve and grow to an anticipated 130 stores in 2019, and a 10-store pilot in Mexico early in 2019. This brings our total to nine countries, and we aim to expand the programme further by 2020.
In Brazil, we sell mobile phones in addition to clothing, and have shared responsibility for taking back and disposing of cell phones and batteries appropriately. We work with GM&Clog, who collect the waste and make sure it gets to the correct destination. We have an e-learning programme for all store staff to help raise awareness of this issue as well. In 2018, we collected 49,472 batteries and 3,960 cell phones, for a total of 53,432 items collected.
Reducing waste from store construction and refurbishment
As we grow, we build new stores and refurbish older ones. In Brazil and Europe, we are working towards greater reuse and recycling of construction materials. In Brazil, we have the support of a specialty construction waste management consultancy to help us reduce the environmental impacts of store openings and updates. In 2018, more than 60 stores were renovated in Brazil, generating a total of 943 metric tons of construction waste, of which 53% was sent to recycling.
In late 2018, C&A stores in Brazil also began implementing the workplace organisation approach known as 5S — named for the Japanese words seiri, seiton, seisō, seiketsu and shitsuke — which is designed to strengthen efficiency in our store operations and improve the daily work experience of retail employees. The 5S approach brings together C&A resources in sustainability, engineering, and communications to rethink how we can best reduce waste, manage depreciated assets, organise internal store space, and communicate with employees. As a next step, we will develop a manual and monitoring checklist that helps managers implement the 5S methodology through training and audits.
Recycling rates by retail market (2018)
Total waste produced by retail market (2018)
More Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM products in-store
To date, we have brought almost 4 million pieces of Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM apparel to market, and look to continue expanding these offerings in additional regions. In Brazil and Mexico, our Cradle to Cradle roadmaps are helping to build on our initial success.
Increasing uptake of recycled polyester through product innovation
In 2016, we recognised the need to increase our use of certified recycled polyester, and in 2017, we developed new products with polyester certified to the Global Recycled Standard (GRS) or the Recycled Content Standard (RCS). These were launched in stores in early 2018 in both outerwear and Ladies’ blouses. As a result, more than 300,000 items containing recycled polyester were sold in our European stores during 2018.
Expanding in-store and online take-back
In 2018, we further expanded our used clothing take-back programme to new geographies globally, and extended our Brazil in-store take-back programme from 31 stores in 2017 to 80 stores in 2018. In Germany, a new online take-back programme provides another convenient way for consumers to turn in their used clothes for a second life. We now offer clothing take-back options in nine countries.