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H&M Smart Recycling

Here’s why shoppers keep filling H&M’s recycling bins

Transforming a business to become carbon negative is no mean feat. But fashion giant H&M is on a mission to achieve this by 2040 and is supercharging its Garment Collecting Program with smart clothes recycling bins.

The fashion pioneer turned to Phygrid to create its first smart recycling bins at its flagship store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, New York City.

The smart recycling bins add a twist to just dropping off old clothes in a recycling bin: the interactive screens give customers a sense of reward for joining H&M’s effort to cut carbon emissions.

That’s a win for H&M and its customers. It’s achieved through Phygrid’s screens on the recycling bins that immediately show the weight of the clothes the customer recycled and how much that’s contributed to H&M’s global tree planting initiative.

H&M has run its Garment Collecting Program since 2013 as part of a long term commitment to reduce its environmental impact and support the Paris Agreement.

The company is targeting a, meaning it will make greenhouse gas reductions beyond its own value chain that are greater than what that ecosystem emits.

In other words, the fashion giant wants to not just reduce negative carbon impacts but actually make a positive impact across the globe. This means addressing everything from cotton farms to clothes washing and recycling.

Its ambitions span the spectrum of the fashion industry, from raw materials acquisition to manufacturing, usage and what customers do with clothes when they don’t want them anymore. Recycling is a key part of this plan.

H&M’s garment collection program uniquely accepts used clothing in any condition, from any brand, in any store. It’s a great policy, but H&M also needed a way to engage customers while they’re recycling and encourage them to do it again next time.

"95% of all the clothes that get thrown away could be reworn, reused or recycled."

The screens, which were made by Ombori with Microsoft and ITAB, do this by explaining to customers the weight of clothes they’ve recycled and how that contributes to H&M’s program to plant one tree for every 50lb (22.6kg) of clothing that’s donated.

Customers can then scan a QR code on the screen to find out more about H&M’s tree planting initiative, which is run by non-profit One Tree Planted.

The program aims to reduce the troubling fact that 95% of all the clothes that get thrown away could actually be reworn, reused or recycled. H&M’s vast footprint and regular contact with customers also makes it a perfect vehicle to reduce this waste. Its new smart recycling bins are helping make this happen.

Digital weight analytics

H&M’s smart recycling screens bring in an element of gamification too. H&M North America has deployed them at stores across the US. The screens display real-time data about recycling volumes from its stores across major cities. This week New York City might be the top recycler, but next week San Francisco might take the lead. The screen shows how many pounds of clothes that have been recycled in each city and how many trees it’s planted because of these donations. This feature is powered by Microsoft’s Azure cloud.

Donors can share their experience on social media to encourage their friends to participate in the program.

Finally, donors can scan a QR code to access online information about H&M’s sustainability initiatives and what they are doing to reduce their environmental impact.

The bins are integrated with Microsoft Teams. This allows them to notify staff via mobile and smartwatch when they need to be emptied.

The smart bin was launched in January 2020 in the H&M store in Manhattan’s 5th Avenue and has since been rolled out to H&M stores in Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta and Houston.

For 2020, H&M aimed to collect five million pounds (2.3m kg) of recycled clothing through the smart bins in the US. This will enable the company to plant 100,000 trees in association with One Tree Planted.

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