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Levi Strauss & Co. Introduces Denim Recycling for Consumers

Levi Strauss & Co. Introduces Denim Recycling for Consumers
(Photo: Levi Strauss & Co. introduced a new denim recycling initiative with Cotton Incorporated that produces insulation for low-income housing. Courtesy of LS&Co.)

Levi Strauss & Co. launched a new North American denim recycling initiative today in partnership with Cotton Incorporated’s Blue Jeans Go Green program. Consumers can bring dry, clean denim clothing from any brand, in any condition, to dedicated bins at Levi’s stores in the United States and Canada.

These denim jeans, tops, and jackets will be transformed into insulation for schools, libraries, or low-income housing built by Habitat for Humanity. In exchange for recycling their garments, consumers receive a 20% discount off their Levi’s purchase.

The effort is part of LS&Co.’s broader commitment to sustainability, which includes their Water<Less technology, the Screened Chemistry initiative, and a push to source 100% of their cotton through the Better Cotton Initiative.

Michael Kobori, vice president of sustainability at Levi Strauss & Co., discusses the new recycling program and its significance for the denim maker.

What was the impetus for the new denim recycling program?

For nearly 150 years, we’ve designed durable, quality products and we are invested in the extension of their lifespan. Millions of tons of used textiles are thrown away every year and most of it ends up in landfill, which is incredibly wasteful and harmful for the environment.

There are, however, ways to find a second or third life for denim that benefit communities and the environment. By working with Cotton Incorporated’s Blue Jeans Go Green denim recycling program, we can offer consumers more sustainable, more productive ways to extend the life of their garments.

How does it fit into LS&Co.’s sustainability strategy?

Sustainability is a key feature of our “Profits through Principles” approach to business, and it dictates that we take responsibility for the human and environmental footprint of our products and operations. We aspire to do right by the places where we live and work, and to continuously innovate around the possible practice and policies for us, our industry, and the planet.

We have ambitious, industry-leading sustainability targets around climate, chemicals, and water usage, and we look at the full lifecycle of garments to try to work as sustainably as possible at every stage — from sourcing to design to manufacturing to use and re-use — with a future state of circularity in mind.

This program is also of a piece with our broader efforts to extend the lifecycle of denim and prevent it from going into landfill. Our Levi’s Tailor Shops can repair and retrofit used garments to give them a second (or third or fourth) act, and our Levi’s Authorized Vintage line refashions archive-quality denim, including jeans and Trucker jackets, plus hundreds of artistically unique and personalized pieces, for resale in select stores.

How does the denim get recycled into insulation?

Cotton’s Blue Jeans Go Green program works with a company called Bonded Logic to transform the used denim into insulation that can be put to use in community buildings such as schools and libraries, and in low-income housing built by Habitat for Humanity affiliates.

What are your hopes for the program?

We hope consumers will respond in force, bringing in denim they are no longer using to take advantage of both the chance to extend the life of their garments and to get 20% off one item in store. We hope they tell their friends to help spread awareness of the disastrous consequences of textile waste and the growing number of options denim owners have to make sure their used garments don’t go the same direction.

And we hope this is just one small part of a much broader conversation between brands and consumers that will help us all work more sustainability and drive towards a far more circular approach to both product development and commercial consumption.

The 4th Annual Environmental Leader & Energy Manager Conference takes place May 13 – 15, 2019 in Denver. Learn more here.

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