Prisoners help Ocado turn old uniforms into bags

10 December 2015

Ocado has found a way to recycle old uniforms with a scheme that employs prison inmates to turn them into aprons and bags.

The online retailer has partnered with HMP Northumberland, run by Sodexo Justice Services, and social enterprise Hubbub to "repurpose old corporate uniforms into aprons and tote bags to be sold for charity".

The prison, where inmates are paid for their work, already has an engineering workshop where prisoners produce components for the manufacturing industry and its Red Tractor-accredited market garden provides fruit and vegetables for organisations including Durham University.

London fashion brand everything in colour has designed the bags and aprons and profits will be handed to the Ocado Foundation. Sodexo would not divulge how much prisoners are paid but a spokesman said: "They are paid in line with National Offender Management Service guidelines."

Tony Simpson, director of HMP Northumberland, said: “Learning new skills and developing a strong work ethic are known to have a positive impact on reducing reoffending when offenders return into the community."

Two in seven working people in the UK wear a uniform and nearly 33 million corporate garments are provided for their use, according to Sodexo. About 90 per cent  – or 15,000 tonnes – goes to landfill or incineration each year.

Ocado’s head of corporate responsibility Suzanne Westlake said: “As a responsible retailer, we wanted to find a better solution to the problem of our unwanted uniforms in order to avoid them ending up in landfill. This innovative project has turned them into fantastic designer products.”

Trewin Restorick, founder of Hubbub, which provides a food delivery service, said: “The last thing a company wants is for branded clothing to get into the wrong hands. We hope offices, warehouses, shops and factories throughout the UK will recognise the scale of this environmental problem and see that by treating their old uniforms as a useful resource they can find creative solutions that build not only environmental benefits but social and financial ones too.”

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