Are Denim-Recycling Initiatives Green or Greenwashing?



Denim recycling isn’t an issue that would strike most people as being controversial. Who wants to see more textiles destined for the dump? And surely with all that Marie Kondo-ing going around, all those joyless jeans must go somewhere.

And indeed, schemes such as Cotton Incorporated’s Blue Jeans Go Green initiative—the largest and most successful of them all—have unquestionably done a world of good.

Since 2006, the year the U.S. trade group began working with Arizona’s Bonded Logic to turn ditched dungarees into natural-fiber housing insulation, Cotton Inc. has amassed 2.5 million pieces of denim, diverted more than 1,230 tons of garment waste from the landfill and produced over 4.8 million square feet of denim insulation, a portion of which it distributes to affiliates of Habitat for Humanity to build homes for families in need.

The largesse is a deeply appreciated one, Helen Dosta, director of development at Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles, told Rivet over email.

“Since 2013, Cotton Inc. has generously donated more than $188,700 of insulation made from recycled jeans and have contributed nearly 630 volunteer hours to helping hardworking low-income individuals and families in the Greater Los Angeles area,” she said. “We look forward to working with Cotton Inc. for many years to come.”

Blue Jeans Go Green accepts used denim year-round through its mail-in program, but it also partners with retailers nationwide, such as American Eagle, Guess, Madewell, Levi Strauss and Rag and Bone, to set up collection bins in-store. It’s a tack that extends the initiative’s reach and doubles down on publicity, which, in turn, funnels more jeans into the pipeline. Participating brands might reward their customers’ donations with discounts or coupons for a new pair of high-rise, low-slung, relaxed or skinny jeans. And so the cycle continues.

Still, not everyone is a fan of the program. Some critics take issue with the framing of recycling as unwanted denim’s first—and perhaps only—recourse, and an environmentally virtuous one even though the program doesn’t distinguish the still-wearable from the unwearable.

Read the full story at Rivet