Love It or Hate It But Recycling Old Underwear Is Sustainable, And It's Here to Stay

Love It or Hate It But Recycling Old Underwear Is Sustainable, And It’s Here to Stay

11 million pounds of underwear go to landfills every day. This company is recycling them instead.

Should you throw away your old underwear? Philadelphia-based The Big Favourite wants to help you recycle them. Yes. Recycle your underwear.

Former workwear brand The Big Favourite has become the first US company to bring complete circularity to the undergarment industry. Instead of throwing away its products, the underthings makers have implemented a take-back scheme. Returned items are sanitized, then made into yarn, which is woven into fabric for new apparel.

The Big Favorite uses 100% pima cotton, making the recycling process much easier. Its unisex offering of boxers, thongs, briefs, crewneck T-shirts, ribbed tanks, and V-neck tees only come in black, navy, and white, to reduce the use of dyes. In return for sending back underwear at the end of its life – simply scan a QR code on the garment tag to generate a free shipping label – customers get account credits to buy new items or to donate to climate-friendly initiatives.

Love It or Hate It But Recycling Old Underwear Is Sustainable, And It's Here to Stay

The Bottom Line

As brand founder, Eleanor Turner, explains in a Vogue interview, “Brands will try to approach circularity as an afterthought, but that’s inauthentic. It has to be part of your approach from the very beginning. Our products were specifically designed for their ‘end of life’ – they’re engineered to come apart easily.” Turner continues, “We know it’s sort of weird to think about sending back your under-stuff. But throwing things into landfills is way grosser.” Items need to be washed before they’re sent back, and the company processes all returns anonymously.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that approximately 11 million pounds (5 million kilos) of unwanted underwear end up in US landfills daily. While recycled content is becoming more common in apparel, it more often comes from sources such as plastic bottles, rather than from a brand’s own used products. For example, Outdoor clothing company Patagonia encourages customers to return old products so they can be reworked and resold, whilst sportswear giant Adidas has created 2 new textiles – Primeblue and Primegreen – from ocean plastic waste.

Recycling clothes in general is difficult because of the mix of natural and synthetic fibres. This is particularly the case with sports shoes and underwear that often contain plastics, and metals. And, typically, underwear, bras, and socks cannot be donated or resold due to the personal hygiene element.

Love It or Hate It But Recycling Old Underwear Is Sustainable, And It's Here to Stay

Underwear Underground

In spite of the fashion industry making moves towards more sustainable business models, most clothing still ends up in a landfill. According to The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), £140 million worth of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year. Plus, the New Standard Institute estimates 150 billion new garments are made every year. Clothing brands are facing mounting pressure to move to “closed-loop” processes.

Around $500 billion a year is lost because of unworn clothes being discarded, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, an organization helping promote a circular fashion economy. The Foundation insists circular production is the only way to stop the clothing industry using up 25% of the world’s carbon budget by 2050.

However, there are moves in the right direction. Last week, sportswear super brand Nike launched its newest footwear collection, Move to Zero, a sustainable-focused range working with circular design principles, upcycled, and renewable materials.

Plus, in a landmark law, the UK government has unveiled a radical national waste prevention programme to ensure circularity in fast fashion. UK Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said in a statement, “We are firmly committed to ending the ‘throwaway’ culture as we build back greener. Major retailers and fashion brands have made strides in reducing their environmental footprint but there is more we must do. That is why, through our world-leading Environment Bill and landmark reforms, we will take steps to tackle fast fashion by incentivising recycling and encouraging innovation in new design.”

Similar stories