Old, but still good

27. June 2019, Editorial

Everyone has them: those skeletons in their closet. Things that they don’t need, but are just too good to be thrown away. So it is nice to know that lots of potentially useful items are being given a second crack of the whip these days, as more and more people insist on recycling them. And a number of major companies are also getting in on the act.


Gebrauchtes wiederverkaufen
neuer Trend
new trend
Sollte jedes Unternehmen überlegen

A pair of old skis, a box of clothes that no longer fit, a mixer that only got used once and a stack of books that will never be read again. In too many cases, the list of things that people have bought but, for whatever reason, they no longer use is far too long. And what have people done about it so far? Not much. Most of it just ends up in the bin.

Between 1995 and 2015 the amount of rubbish that people throw away in Austria just kept on growing – from 437kg to 564kg per person. In reality you could just have that stereo repaired, or sell that pair of jeans that no longer fits to someone else. And that is exactly what is happening more and more often. Not just because it is a good way to earn a few extra euros, but also because it gives people the feeling they are doing their bit for the environment. As sustainability continues to take off, the amount going into landfill decreases, alleviating the burden on the air we breathe, our water sources and our natural landscapes. But it is not just private individuals that have realised it is time to recycle. Companies are trying to finally close the loop on the circular economy, with the fashion industry leading the way.

Still in fashion or can it go?

Fast fashion has been the defining trend in recent years. Cheaply-produced clothing sold at knock-down prices was in. And what has no apparent value is treated accordingly, and simply thrown in the bin. Each year, clothing worth around a hundred billion dollars is chucked out, even though around half of it might never have been worn!

recycle and get a voucher

Big chains such as H&M and Zara, who are among the founders of fast fashion, are now taking a stand. Or at least they are having a rethink: anyone that brings unwanted clothing to a branch of H&M – whatever the label – is given a voucher towards their next purchase. This scheme has allowed H&M to recycle an average of 16,000 tonnes of old clothing per year. By 2020 it hopes to up its total worldwide to an impressive 25,000 tonnes. Anything that is beyond saving is used to make cleaning cloths or to produce fibres for insulation material.

But not everything that breaks has to be pulped and recycled. German sports apparel and equipment manufacturer Schöffel has operated its own service factory for some time now. Customers can send in their damaged clothing, and for 40-60 euros it will be repaired. American sportswear brand Patagonia even provides instructions to help its customers patch up their own clothing, as well as offering a separate marketplace for preowned goods. One of the main reasons the system works is that Schöffel and Patagonia both cater to the higher end of the market – and customers know that quality comes at a price, even if it the items are second-hand. This can also be clearly seen on the Austrian online marketplace willhaben, where designer goods by Louis Vuitton and Burberry fetch high prices, particularly during the run-up to Christmas. In one study conducted by the site which, admittedly, is not exactly representative, one in every two users confirmed that they would consider giving someone a second-hand product as a present. And almost 90% of respondents indicated they had already been gifted something used and were happy about it.

Scandinavia – second-hand saviours

As with so many things, Sweden is one step ahead of the game: in 2018 the first shopping centre to offer exclusively recycled or sustainably-produced products opened just outside Stockholm. In addition to clothing, the range includes computers, toys and games, bicycles, construction materials – anything that the Swedes bring to ReTuna Återbruksgalleri to be given a new lease of life. The second-hand shops are so successful that other centres are already being planned. There is also a fair amount going on at Ikea when it comes to recycling. The furniture store is exploring systems for buying and selling used furniture, and in England it is recycling textiles. In Switzerland consumers can even lease furniture for a given period of time. It seems that in future Ikea wants to branch out from its blue and yellow brand identity to add a splash of green.

Electronic precious metal

But it is not just down to businesses to act. Consumers can also go without certain purchases, such as the latest smartphone. The excesses of o ur throwaway society become clear as day when it comes to technology. Each year more than 44 million tonnes of electrical goods – around six kilos per person – are disposed of. Only a fifth of this refuse is collected and recycled. In many cases, the devices themselves are still fully functional and are simply being replaced by seemingly better models. That said, Apple takes back old devices (in exchange for vouchers) and refurbishes them – its staff can reset and restore up to 200 iPhones, ready for the second-hand market, every hour. Consumer electronics retailers such as Saturn now have Sell-&-Go machines that check old smartphones and suggest a sales price which can be redeemed at the store in the shape of a voucher.

Electronic junk is also an interesting prospect, as the components often contain precious raw materials. A story from Japan, host of the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games, shows just how precious it can be. A recent nationwide appeal called on the population to collect up and donate their unwanted electronic goods, and more or less everyone in Japan pitched in. Minuscule electronic components, mobile phones and other devices were melted down and transformed into 2,500 gold, silver and bronze medals – so we already have one clear winner, long before the first athletes face off against one another.

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