Clothing store’s take-back program shows how recycling can be a strategy for retailers

clothes hangers
CC BY 3.0 Emily May

This year marks the 20th anniversary of a partnership between Bon-Ton stores and Goodwill that has recycled millions of pounds of textiles.

Charity shops serve as an important means of recycling textiles, but taking the time to donate unwanted clothing can seem like a chore. But a longstanding partnership between Goodwill and Bon-Ton shows how a retailer can help motivate more people to recycle.

For the past twenty years, the retailer has hosted a bi-annual donation drive and sale event in partnership with Goodwill. To incentivize shoppers to donate, Bon-Ton offers a discount coupon for every item they bring in. “I think what is unique is that they’re given a coupon for each of the items, versus one coupon for a bag of items,” said Lauren Lawson-Zilai, a Goodwill spokesperson.

Point of sale take-back programs are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to municipal recycling, particularly in the electronics industry. The European Union and some U.S. cities have passed laws requiring consumer electronics makers to become responsible for recycling their old products.

The idea is also gaining a toehold among clothing retailers. H&M launched a clothing collection program in 2013. Yet there’s still a long way to go, as less then 20 percent of textile waste gets recycled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. An estimated 14.3 million tons of textile waste was generated in 2012, and made up about 5.7 percent of total municipal solid waste.

Christine Hojnacki, the Vice President of Events for Bon-Ton, said the Goodwill sale not only helps to prevent clothing from ending up in the landfill, but also allows the company to give back to the community. The donated clothing is either sold in Goodwill’s charity shops or sold for textile recycling. The money then funds Goodwill’s community youth and job training programs.

“We’re in the business of retail and selling clothing, and what happens to the old clothing when you come out to the store to buy new things?” Said Hojnacki. “We were able to prevent this clothing from going in the garbage and landfills, and at the same time it would be helping people find good jobs.”

clothing recycling© Goodwill

The first event was held at a single store in 1994, and since then has grown to over 270 Bon-Ton and subsidiary stores across the U.S. The most recent event collected over 2.5 million pounds of donations, according to numbers collected by Goodwill.

While the event requires staff coordination and marketing, Hojnacki said it’s a major opportunity for Bon-Ton stores. “This is our customers’ favorite sale,” she said.

Goodwill has partnered with other retailers for individual or seasonal donation drives, but Lawson-Zilai said this particular collaboration has been a long-term success because the leadership at Bon Ton has made the partnership part of their standard operations. “Other retailers should look at similar models, especially when it means reducing items from landfills, and ultimately making a positive impact on the environment and people.”

You can learn more about the event at

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