Recycle…Bras? Intimissimi Says Yes

One of the overarching themes of the 2010 Net Impact conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was recycling – how we needed more of it and there should be a national program. Recycling items like bottles, cans, paper and cardboard is fairly easy (at least it is where I live in Michigan), but what about those unusual, hard-to-break-down items? I mean, what do you do with YOUR underwear when you’re done with it? It’s really not something that should be…donated.

Bras, especially, are often made with underwires and other man-made materials that don’t break down easily. Recently, Intimissimi, an Italian bra company, launched a six-week pilot program to recycle bras. They are encouraging customers to bring used bras into the store and giving each three euros ($4) toward the purchase of a new bra.

“There are programs for the scrapping of appliances, but no one thinks about what’s involved in the waste management of brassieres,” said Sandro Veronesi, the architect of the program and president of the Italian lingerie company Calzedonia Group, which owns Intimissimi. He adds that bras present a unique set of recycling challenges precisely because they are made out of several different materials.

Intimissimi partnered with Ovat Campagnari, a Veneto-based company that specializes in recycling and disposing of textile waste, to break down the bras. The fibers are then mixed with other materials to make soundproof insulating panels used in construction. Maybe this program will spark other ideas about how to use recycled materials from other items that are difficult to break down in construction and other industries.

Mirco Campagnari, one of the owners, says that many companies have been contacting them about the recycled result since the program started. So far, the program is an experiment. At the end of the program, both companies will have to gauge the feasibility of continuing the campaign, but initial figures have been good. Since the program started, 40 percent of all bras sold in Intimissimi stores were bought using the trade-in offer.

Several companies offer eco-friendly lingerie, but not in large quantities for mass consumption. Veronesi admits that even their own efforts are in the early stages and nowhere near ready for production. So if bras must continue to be made out of non-eco-friendly materials, than a recycling solution could certainly mitigate their environmental impact and help women feel good about buying bras. Plus, a trade-in program helps offset the price of a new bra.

If the recycling program takes off, it could launch a whole new niche industry. After all the discussion about recycling and new green jobs, this program is a great way to test a new business idea. In the U.S., with the trend toward LEED-certified construction, it seems like more construction materials made from recycled materials would be in demand.

It will be interesting to see the final results of the program and if it continues. If it does, will any of the U.S. lingerie makers follow suit?

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at and @anewell3p on Twitter.

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