Recycling Underwear

Photo: Esteban Bernal / Unsplash

There is luxe fashion, then fast fashion, and underwear that no one talks about. In my childhood, underwear came only in whites. Now they come in all colours and fancy, funky designs. The underwear has evolved but what has not evolved is its disposal. Usually, it is put in a bag and surreptitiously dumped in garbage from where it ends up in the landfill. Interestingly most underwear doesn’t get worn out or tear the elastic simply goes. That means that more underwear lands up in landfills than it should.

At first thought, the problem seems to be small. Think again. The industry turns out roughly 150 billion pairs of underwear each year. Underwear contains synthetic plastic-based fibres like nylon and polyester, which are not biodegradable. They lie in landfills for hundreds of years and break down into microfibres that end up in water systems poisoning humans and animals.

The problem with underwear is that, unlike other clothes, you cannot give them away due to hygiene issues. It’s for the same reason that stores don’t accept returns of undergarments. Thus, there is little reuse or resale.

Parade, a US-based company, has tied up with Terracycle for a programme that will recycle underwear. The company will send a biodegradable bag and a free shipping label at people’s request. One can fill in as many underwears as can fit in the bag and send it back. These bags will ten go to Terracycle where the pieces will be sorted, cleaned and processed into materials for use in housing insulation and bedding. Participants in the programme also receive a discount coupon on Parade’s products.

We need more such mechanisms for a sustainable and circular world.

Published by Utkarsh Majmudar

Utkarsh Majmudar is a Fellow, IIM Ahmedabad and a professional with experience encompassing academics and administration at top business schools in India (IIM Lucknow, IIM Udaipur, and IIM Bangalore) and working with large corporations. His interest areas include corporate finance and CSR.

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