Hamburg-based Recyclehero now recycling clothes in region

Start-up collecting old clothes free of charge with electric cargo bikes
27 January 2022
Nadine Herbrich and Alessandro Cocco on their cargo bikes

Every adult in Germany owns an average of 95 items of clothing not counting underwear and socks, according to a study by Greenpeace. But what happens to the old clothes as more and more items are added? Are they thrown away, donated or exported and if so where to? Recycling in the region rather than in poor countries now tops the agenda for the founders of Recyclehero. And they are also tackling the blight of fast fashion. To this end, the duo began collecting old clothes free of charge from people's homes last August and transporting them per e-bike. Launched initially as a last-mile solution and pick-up service for waste paper, waste glass and deposit bottles, Recyclehero acts in a socially-responsible manner by hiring unemployed people and refugees to give them low-threshold entry into the labor market,

Fast-fashion versus recycling

Fast fashion is a huge problem for recycling, said Alessandro Cocco, joint founder of Recyclehero. If the quality of the materials is inferior, garments break down faster and have to be disposed of accordingly. They are often made of mixed fibres, which are particularly difficult to recycle. "Our goal is to keep good-quality clothing in use for as long as possible," she pointed out.  To this end, the company is working on various upcycling and downcycling solutions for other textiles as well. Recyclehero also plans to open up their used clothing pool. Artists and upcycling initiatives could then purchase textiles for their projects at a fixed price per kilo.

Focus on recycling in region

The pandemic has exacerbated the mounds of used clothing, according to Nadine Herbrich, joint founder of Recyclehero. "Of course, we could sell the collected old clothes to Africa or Eastern Europe for a few hundred euros per ton. But that's not in line with our mission. We are trying to recycle the textiles in the region instead in a bid to tackle the underlying social problem." The start-up is already working with the Hanseatic Help non-profit organization and various second-hand stores.