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Uniqlo puts old clothes to good use

25 Comments
By Jessica Ocheltree

At the bottom of your drawers or in the back of your closet, you probably have some perfectly good clothes that you haven’t worn for ages. Whether they’ve gone out of style, faded a little or just no longer fit, they’ve been cast aside until the day they end up in the trash or are reincarnated as cleaning rags.

But there’s a more eco-friendly and socially conscious option — for some of those unwanted items, at least. Since March 1, Uniqlo stores throughout the country have been accepting donations of any of their clothing for recycling.

The company first started the program in 2001, and initially only accepted specific items at scheduled times. The operation has since been vastly expanded in the hope of increasing customer participation and giving products a longer life cycle. Officially titled the All-Product Recycling Initiative, it’s more commonly known by the catchier moniker of Uniqlo Recycle.

“We strive to reduce the environmental impact of our business activities in a sustainable manner because we produce more than 500 million [units] per year,” explains Eiko Sherba, from the Corporate Social Responsibility department of Uniqlo’s parent company, Fast Retailing.

Such prodigious output is a recipe for a whole lot of landfill, so the company started looking at other options. Their first plan was to process the used clothes as fuel, but then the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees expressed an interest in sending them to refugee camps.

Aid workers often have difficulty ensuring that refugees have proper clothing to protect against the elements, so Uniqlo began by collecting items from their popular fleece line. This initiative was so well received that they expanded to include all Uniqlo items in 2006.

After clothes are collected, they are sorted. The roughly 10% which aren’t in sufficiently good condition are sent for conversion into industrial fiber or fuel, and the remainder distributed with the cooperation of the UNHCR, Japan Relief Clothing Center and Japanese Organization for International Cooperation in Family Planning. These groups make sure that the deliveries to camps are suitable for local weather, meet the demographic needs of the population, and are culturally appropriate.

Last year, the program collected a record 2.62 million items and provided emergency clothing aid to victims of violence and natural disasters throughout Asia and Africa. Now that it has begun collecting items year-round and can ensure a larger and more consistent flow of clothing, Uniqlo hopes to reach more of the estimated 30 million refugees and internally displaced people in need this year.

“We place brochures and posters in Uniqlo stores, and we report to our customers what we have seen and felt at the refugee camps through our website,” says Sherba. They may not have to try very hard to promote the program, mind you, as the response so far has been extremely positive.

“Customers aren’t rewarded for bringing clothing back to the store, but they support our initiative,” says Sherba. “They are so happy to bring clothing in to the store, because they have a lot of clothing at home that they can’t dispose of.” Uniqlo only asks that the donations be laundered and not stained or torn.

Even with the increased responsibility of year-round collection, Sherba is already looking forward to the next step. “In the future, we would like to expand this to overseas stores and we are thinking about expanding to our sister brands.”

While Uniqlo Recycle is an admirable example of corporate social responsibility and cradle-to-cradle thinking, it’s a program that can’t work without the participation of its customers. Sherba encourages Metropolis readers to bring in unwanted items, even if it’s only one.

“That one piece of clothing you don’t need may be the one piece of clothing somebody else does.”

To find out more about Uniqlo Recycle, see http://meturl.com/uniqlorecycle

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.


25 Comments
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So did I read this right - they only accept UNIQLO used items? If so, not quite as philanthropic as the article makes out.

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Come on, give them some credit. Finally, a Japanese company doing something for the less fortunate. Charity is quite rare when it comes to Japanese companies. When was the last you heard of a Jp company organizing a charity event?

If Uniqlo accepted any sort of clothing, they'd be inundated. They're not Oxfam.

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This is good. I am going to go through my drawers ASAP. Good job Uniqlo.

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@ kirakira25

So did I read this right - they only accept UNIQLO used items? If so, not quite as philanthropic as the article makes out.

I guess their pitiable efforts are drawfed by your own accomplishments

@ Pukey2 There's plenty of charity in Japan if you bother to look.

@UNIQLO You guys rock!

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Good on them for recycling. That's a start. One other activity I'd like to see them do is hand out their clothes to the homeless (or shelters or churches).

My old clothes end up in plastic bags every once in awhile and I leave them with a homeless person on my way to and back from work, which I see daily.

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so in Japan, corporations distribute clothes to the needy? man, all big business does here in america is blow up oil rigs and destroy our ecosystem. I'm jealous.

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Any charity is good, but does anyone know where to send the other clothes that are not UNIQLO? The search is on.

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Ito Yokado, has a goods(not just clothes) buy-back campaign every so often.

My ward also collects some reuseable clothing like jackets, Dresses, etc once week with the standard rubbish pickup.

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Good to see, less unecessary waste and someone who needs clothes can get them!

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Yes, good to see. Like other posters, I have looked (not that hard mind you) in the past for places to donate clothes in Japan, but they do not seem very common compared to Canada and the US. On the other hand, I hate to be the party pooper here, but you know they are also trying to retain customer loyalty and maintain sales by getting people to return clothes at the stores, then having them conveniently find something else they like in the store to buy...

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Good effort by Uniqlo. Just as appliance manufacturers have been responsible for safely disposing their own products more and more product manufacturers ought to be doing this even if the products are not really "hazardous".

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Great going Uniqlo. They also treat their workers well to from what I understand, prefering to employ people as full time workers with benefits rather than as minimum wage albaitos with no benefits. A company that sees workers as an asset and also demonstrates social / environmental responsibility seems like a rare gem here.

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Yokohama recycles clothes! When you throw away clothes here, they ask that they be clean and in good shape when placed at the pick up point, any worn or dirty items must be thrown away with burnable trash. They have a large recycling center near the city hospital on the Seaside line. Yokohama Loves to recycle, almost to the point of madness!

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Japan really needs to get clothing/food donations like the red cross. I have no idea how many times I have had to chuck clothes out because I can't find a place to give them to.

My husband PAID to "donate" clothes - you pay the shipping. I was shocked - and understand why people chuck out their stuff. If they would do something about the taxes on donations it would be much better. As it is, no tax break on donations that keep places like shelters and food banks in business. Only uniqlo clothing? Disgusting that it even gets a mention in the paper.

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As was said quiet a few Ku/Shi now that collect recycleable clothing. My son had alecture about it in school last saturday(Open day)

Agree that groups like the Salvation Army expect you do get the clothing to them either in person or via shipment.

Like I always say a trip to your local Ku/Shu offices, Community centre or foreigner association will provide you with a TON of info you wouldn't get otherwise.

Anoher option of course is to sell the stuff to a clothing recycle shop but again the taking of the stuff there might cost more than you will get in return.

TELL might also have the info.

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Ku/Shi

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Be happy that Uniqlo does this. It helps out others and doesn't cost you a thing. Who knows, you might even get a warm fuzzy feeling knowing you didn't chuck out something that could now keep someone warm on a cold day.

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Can we be clear - is this just Uniqlo items they accept?

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And then there is the Salvation Army. They are not picky like Uniqlo and that's where we take our used but still perfectly clean and wearable clothes.

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Can we be clear - is this just Uniqlo items they accept?

Yep. Uniqlo is only for Uniqlo.

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Spring of this year I visited a small country in western Europe: the Netherlands. Even the smallest village has its collecting points for recyclable goods. The town I stayed in has a population of 20 thousand, but the containers for glass, foot ware and clothes are found in at least 3 different locations. There are separate containers for white glass (transparent), green glass and brown glass. No need for the local authorities to dispatch trucks for collecting; citizens do the work themselves - very efficient. The containers for clothes and foot ware are painted green and belong to the Red Cross. When you have to dump something you pack the items in tied plastic bags, open the hatch near the top and dispose of your items. Japan can learn a thing or two here. There are enough large shopping centers now that have the space for mentioned containers and even if these spaces aren't evenly spread, the spaces can be created by the money that is saved by eliminating these noisy, polluting trucks running around all the time.

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Good point presto. The Japan Salvation Army is a better place that accept such donations and would be better to take clothes to than Uniqlo. Red Cross Japan may accept them, but I guess you can check their website:

http://www.jrc.or.jp/index.html

The Japan Salvation Army site is located here:

http://www.salvationarmy.or.jp/

Also, the Shanti Volunteer Association also accepts donations of clothing:

http://sva.or.jp/index.html

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Sorry, but all three websites are in Japanese.

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this is cool ') go uUniqlo !

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Some of used japanese clothing go for sale in Indonesia, lol

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