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Where Does Unsold Supermarket Clothing Go? Sainsbury’s Expands Fashion Recycling Scheme

Where Does Unsold Supermarket Clothing Go? Sainsbury’s Expands Fashion Recycling Scheme

So where does unsold supermarket clothing go? It's easy to pick up some basic clothes when you're doing a weekly shop and it can be more affordable than high street brands.

But just like most fashion brands, supermarkets rotate what clothes they have in store. They run sales to clear some of the stock, but what happens to the faulty garments and returns that can't be sold? We've explored what our top supermarkets are doing to stop textiles going to landfill, including recycling and buy-back schemes.

Where Unsold Supermarket Clothing Goes

Sainsburys Will Expand Second Hand Fashion Scheme Across All Its UK Stores

It is great to hear that Sainsbury's will be rolling out a UK-wide scheme to deal with clothing waste. They have been working with Newlife since 2019. Newlife are a UK charity that supports disabled children by providing loans and grants for vital equipment that these young people urgently need. 

Since 2019, Sainsbury's have sent a whopping 65.5 tonnes of unwearable clothes to Newlife as part of a trial textile recycling scheme. This is all made up of damaged clothes or garments that cannot be resold for any reason. 

Newlife takes the unsaleable clothing and finds a new purpose for it, either by reusing or recycling the items. This might be used for the insulation material in cars for sound/waterproofing. 

Now the scheme will expand to all of Sainsbury's UK stores where it sells its own Tu branded clothing. 

Sainsbury's has around 1400 stores across the UK, including over 600 supermarkets where they stock fashion items. 

What Are Other Supermarkets Doing to Tackle Clothing Waste?

Tesco trialled a clothing take-back scheme in 2019 called 'Detox your wardrobe', where customers could donate clothing, shoes and textiles from any brand in any condition across 87 UK stores. This has since expanded to over 500 stores, working with SOEX and the Salvation Army to recycle unwanted clothes.

ASDA recently teamed up with Preloved Vintage Wholesale to offer shoppers a chance to buy second hand clothing in store. At Green Heart, we were excited to explore this at our local store in Byker, Newcastle. It was refreshing to be able to browse second hand clothes alongside the new. Our only complaint was that each garment seemed a bit marked up in price, especially compared to the brand new clothes that you could buy right next to the vintage rack instead.  

Waitrose and John Lewis did have a BuyBack recycling scheme but this is temporarily unavailable. We have contacted them to ask when this might return.

They said: "As of the moment, we don't have yet plans that the said program will be available again in the future. However, we will post an update in our website when we will reopen the scheme."

The scheme used to work by sending your old clothes that you'd previously bought from John Lewis or their partners or brands stocked by them. You could then take these clothes to a John Lewis shop to get a £3 credit for each eligible item up to £9 to spend on the day. 

Morrisons and the Salvation Army have also been teaming up to deal with textile waste. This recent (February 2022) 'Drop and Shop' trial was slightly different as it did not involve outside clothing bank boxes. Instead, you have to go inside the supermarkets where a staff member is on hand to take the items. 

Marks and Spencer have a 'Let's Shwop' scheme that has been running since 2008. Working with Oxfam, they have gathered over 35 million garments, raising around £23 million in funds for Oxfam. You get a free reward when you 'Shwop' if you scan a QR code and put in your Sparks card details. 


Whether we like it or not, supermarkets will continue to sell brand new clothes. Some shops, like ASDA, are trialling second hand and vintage which is very positive and it would be great to see all supermarkets do this. But in the meantime, if buying brand new fashion is here to stay, we need ways to minimise any waste from deadstock and returns as well as damaged and unsaleable items. So it is good to see Sainsbury's newest initiative, along with the other big supermarkets attempts to deal with their own clothing waste. 

READ MORE about where else you can take clothes if you're having a clear out.

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