A functioning ‘functional unit’?

Ingun Grimstad Klepp and Tone Skårdal Tobiasson

What is the ‘functional unit’ of a winter coat, or a pair of boots? The ‘functional unit’ is a central concept for lifecyle assessment (LCA) based tools. In the ongoing work on the European Union’s (EU) PEFCR (Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules), this is based on the number of days of ‘usability’.

Let’s explore what this means. A ‘functional unit’ is perhaps most easily explained in terms of paint, in terms of how long a certain paint will keep the walls protected and good looking, but how does that translate to apparel?

The EU has decided that the functional unit for a winter coat – or a pair of boots – is 100 days of use. This is the expected usability (functional unit) you can expect to gain from a product before it needs replacing or repairing. So far, so good.

Click here to read the full article (ecotextile.com)

VikingGold: Weaving History and Fashion together

Fashion met cultural history in the project VikingGold, and the two were woven together into a beautiful wool fabric, that found its way to museum exhibits and Norwegian national tv as the most sustainable fabric of the future.

During the annual event Oslo Runway, the Norwegian actress Iselin Shumba debuted as a catwalk model on a runway set up in a factory deep in the Norwegian forests close to the Swedish border. By chance I was at the event. By chance I was wearing the Oleana jacket I had worn on Norwegian national TV for the episode of Norway’s Sewing Bee (Symesterskapet) when Iselin Shumba was the “client” who wanted a jacket or coat she could wear on chilly days when she does her weekly “sit in for the climate” in front of the Parliament building in Oslo. She wanted the fabric to be “the most sustainable possible”, which was why the Norwegian national TV had called me. I’ll come back to that. 

Let’s unravel the threads back in time and explore what fascinates people with the fabric.

The story starts with the project Valuing Norwegian Wool, led by Consumption Research Norway, before they became part of Oslo Metropolitan University, and financed by the Norwegian Research Council. One of the aims of the project was to explore a label of origin for Norwegian wool. “Norwool” had been trademarked by a Swedish company, an American outerwear company had done the same with “Norwegian Wool”. In addition, a Norwegian yarn company selling cheap Chinese-spun wool of uncertain origin called their product Viking Yarn.

To our big surprise, we discovered that one of the sponsors of the British-based Campaign for Wool was “Viking Wool of Norway.” The label was even owned by a subsidiary of the Norwegian farmers’ coop, Nortura. Why hadn’t they as project-partners informed us? The truth was rather obvious. The label was ugly as sin. It had been developed in the UK to sell carpet-wool, and as such, worked well. But for wool textiles and fashion?  Curtis Wool Direct, who had developed the “Viking Wool of Norway” label, did everything in their power to launch it in Norway, including enlisting now King Charles, then the Prince of Wales, but Nortura put their foot down. Luckily.

However, this resulted in an idea, when the opportunity arose to apply for funding from KreaNord, a fund under the auspices of the Nordic Council of Ministers for cultural projects. What if we lifted up the cultural textile heritage from the Vikings, looking at the Viking women’s role in this trader and explorer culture, later explored by Michele Hayeur Smith in “The Valkyries’ Loom: The Archeology of Cloth Production and Female Power in the Atlantic”? Read more about this book here. This was the historic beauty and heritage we highlighted in the application, and which won the funding. We decided to call the project VikingGold. 

In the project there were several partners: Consumption Research Norway (Oslo Metropolitan University), the Museum of Cultural History (University of Oslo), Nordic Initiative Clean & Ethical Fashion, and the Norwegian Fashion Institute, who took the lead. The project lasted from the autumn of 2013 until the autumn of 2015. However, VikingGold had long-term impact that was hard to envision from the outset. 

Important for the project was to create meeting points for historical expertise, raw material suppliers, and the finished goods industry and designers. These represented people and groups who had not earlier cooperated. Representatives from the industry and designers got access to historical archives and got to see preserved textiles from the Viking age, and gain knowledge about the Vikings’ clothing and textile production. Marianne Vedeler, the archaeologist in the project, was simultaneously working on a reconstruction of the tunic from Lendbreen, Norway’s oldest garment from around year 300 AD, and we chose this as a starting-point. The tunic is about 500 years older than the Viking age, but diamond twill, the weaving-pattern, was widely used in the Viking age as well. The selected tunic was thoroughly examined and well documented, and this made it possible for us to be able to show both a reconstruction (described here) and our industrially produced fabric at the same time. Our collaborators, from sheep farmers to designers, were involved in the decision-making process and the discussions themselves, and were important for enhancing competence and understanding of what compromises must be made when a historical material is to be produced in a modern way.

The wool

We had to choose a breed living in Norway today. For the reconstruction, Old Norwegian (Gammelnorsk) sheep wool were used, while the VikingGold project used Old Norse Spæl and Modern Spæl (short-tailed) to get two different shades. Ingvild Espelien at Selbu Spinning Mill took responsibility for the collection of the 200 kilos of wool from two local herds and it was also she who sorted the wool into two shades and cleaned it, and also separated some of the coarser guard hairs out of the fleeces.

Old Norse Sheep grazing on heath lands. (Photo Jan Broda/Woolume project)

Spinning

Half of the wool was sent to Hillesvåg Woolen Mill, to spin the weft yarn. Selbu Spinning Mill spun the warp yarn, and both were spun with a z twist, though the warp was a little looser spun. The thickness of the yarn corresponded to 6 nm, as 7 nm was on the border of what the machines could spin. This may appear as a minor detail, however the trade-off between being closest to the original yarn in the tunic, and getting a good raw-material with the wool and the technology we have today, was important.

The yarn spun for the fabric. (Photo: Tone S. Tobiasson)

Weaving

Ingvild sent the warp yarn first to Krivi Vev, and in order for the yarn in the weft to be as compatible as possible, it was weighed before Hillesvåg started their spinning. No one at Krivi Vev had seen the original fabric, and worked from drawings and pictures in order to set up the pattern and density. A characteristic of older textiles is often a lack of symmetry in the patterns. Krivi Vev chose to clean up the pattern a little, and also chose to distribute darker and lighter portions evenly in the weave to counteract clear stripe patterns. The yarn initially seemed more difficult to weave than it actually was. The actual weaving of the 200 meters therefore went quickly and easily. See how it went here.

Finishing

Krivi Vev has no finishing facilities at Tingvoll, and usually sends their fabrics to Sweden for these types of processes. However, Sjølingstad Woolen Mill museum (which is part of the Vest-Agder museum) assumed responsibility for the last finishing, and although the fabric was a bit too wide for their machine, this went well. We chose a very simple and easy finish, although some of the designers had requested a felted, waulked or fulled fabric (see below for how this will now be resolved). For anyone who had seen the fabric before and after treatment, it was striking how much softer and smoother the finished fabric was than when it was newly woven.

The “finished” fabric on the left is smoother and softer than the unfinished fabric in the right. (Photo: Tone S. Tobiasson)

Design

Parallel to the actual fabric production, a design competition was announced for a select group of Norwegian and Icelandic designers – and the invited sketches were then exhibited as part of Ta det personlig (Take it personally) exhibition at the Historical Museum in Oslo, where both the original Lendbre tunics, the reconstruction of the tunic and VikingGold were presented with sketches from five Norwegian and two Icelandic designers.

From the exhibit at the Historic Museum in Oslo, where the results from the VikingGold challenge were showcased, alongside the tunic from the Lendbreen glacier. (Photo: Tone S. Tobiasson)

Among these, we picked out three who got several meters of fabric and sewed outfits that were shown during the Oslo Wool Day in 2015 (Sissel Strand, Connie Riiser Berger and Elisabeth Stray Pedersen). These were also shown at an exhibition at the Coastal Museum in Florø (Exhibit Tradition and trend: Norwegian wool in all times).

From the exhibition at the Coastal Museum in Florø.

In addition, two designers have designed specific items, using the fabric: Malin Håvarstein and Rebeca Herlung, alongside Kim Holte, who received the material and has dyed it blue for her Viking re-enactment, and both Ingun Klepp and Ingvild Espelien have sewn dresses using the fabric.

A jacket detail: Designer Malin Håvarstein played with the VikingGold material in a modern context. (Photo: Håvarstein Design)

Krivi Vev has woven a similar fabric afterwards with ordinary crossbred wool, and designer Marianne Mørck made a collection using this material. Also, the furniture producer Nuen has made a series of chairs with this same fabric. They have adopted a fibershed approach, which means they source their materials within a given radius. Read more about Fibershed here.

A Nuen chair with fabric woven by Krivi Vev from wool spun at Hillesvåg Wool Spinnery. (Photo: Tone S. Tobiasson)

TV fame

After the project ended, there was still rolls of the fabric left over. The question remained what to do with these. During 2020, I was contacted by the Norwegian national broadcaster, NRK, who had the production rights for the British reality-concept Sewing Bee. They had decided that the focus for the up-coming season would be sustainability, and one of the episodes would look at the ‘most sustainable fabric of the future’. They clearly envisioned a ‘new-gen’ material, and wondered if perhaps fungi or waste from agriculture could be the feed-stock for such a material. They had already tried to get hold of materials, but had failed miserably. My suggestion was to use the VikingGold left-overs. And to turn the story-telling around into a new discourse that said “how the most sustainable fabric is not science-fiction, but rather reinventing the past”.

NRK loved the twist.

So, a few months later, I found myself on the set, explaining to the contestants, the three celebrities hosting the show and ‘the client’ Iselin Shumba about the sheep, the wool, the process and the fabric – and why it is the epitome of sustainability. All the contestants received a material-piece in order to trial sewing, as some of the designers we had worked with the material, said it did take some getting used to and offered some resistance. When the show aired a year later, the fantastic results rolled across the tv-screen and the winning coat/jacket was chosen by the Shumba, who posted pictures of her wearing it over and over again on Instagram. Which, of course, made it even more sustainable. However, how happy she was with the result I didn’t hear before much later, when she debuted as a catwalk-model a year later.

Iselin Shumba in her VikingGold jacket. (Photo: Private)

Latest development

During a conference at Selbu Spinning mill in October 2022, an American student from Rauland Academy for Traditonal Art and Folk Music, presented work with fulling (or waulking) textiles with old techniques. We decided rather on a whim, to send him 10 meters of the VikingGold material to experiment with. He will be doing both “foot-fulling” and a trial with a wooden box he has reconstructed from old instructions, and document this for further research. So far he has reported that the VikingGold material offered much resistance to be fulled.

As we round up this story, how Iselin Shumba has chosen to use social media to promote climate change, to make a cultural sustainability aspect the main story – is stellar.

How to make sure Extended Producer Responsibility becomes a silver bullet

This is a letter sent to commissioners and members of the European Commission in October 2022, from 4 participants in the Wasted Textiles project that explains their suggestions for a way of developing an EPR scheme that addresses volumes. They suggest an Eco-modulation based on volumes in the waste and therefore include the growing online trade.

How to make sure Extended Producer Responsibility becomes a silver bullet

We would firstly like to recognize the immense effort made by the EU Commission in launching the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles in the spring of 2022 and welcome the long-awaited focus on this sector. We would also like to express our appreciation of the strategy’s systemic approach to tackling the various challenges in the textile sector. We especially welcome that the strategy addresses fast fashion, the problem of synthetics and the need for EPR.

We are an applied research consortium under the umbrella of the project Wasted Textiles, which represents strong expertise on textiles, i.e., consumption and wardrobe studies (use, reuse, laundry, repair, disposal), end-of-life practices and waste analysis, fibres and measurement tools, greenwashing, marketing claims and consumer communication and, business models. We wish to offer our interdisciplinary expertise and in-depth knowledge of consumer research, waste and recycling management and policies from 30 years of research and recycling industry development. Wasted Textiles is led by Consumption Research Norway (SIFO), a non-profit, transdisciplinary research institute at the Oslo Metropolitan University.  SIFO has a history going back to the 1930s and the birth of home economics and has worked with clothing consumption from the start. Today the institute has extensive research on clothing, especially the use phase.

With this letter, we would like to express our support for the EU Commission’s work within textiles and at the same time highlight key areas of concern that need to be addressed for a much-needed systemic change within the industry. Specifically, this letter concerns the development of harmonised      EU Extended producer responsibility (EPR) rules for textiles with eco-modulation fees as part of the forthcoming revision of the Waste Framework Directive in 2023.

Norway was one of the first countries in Europe to implement Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging waste and electric electronic equipment (EE goods) and batteries during the early 1990s. The law from 2017 replaced the voluntary industry agreements from 1994. The National Waste Association of Norway (Avfall Norge, part of the Wasted Textiles consortium) has a history dating back to 1986. Norway also got its first Pollution Act in 1981.

We believe that harmonised EU EPR rules for textiles can be an important instrument to bring the needed systemic changes in the textile sector. In line with a recent report by Eunomia “Driving a Circular Economy for Textiles through EPR”, we believe the aim of the EPR scheme must be the reduction of environmental impacts from the textile sector. This is in line with the original definition of EPR from the Swedish researcher Thomas Lindhqvist from 1992:

“Extended producer responsibility is an environmental protection strategy to achieve an environmental goal of reduced total environmental impact from a product, by making the manufacturer of the product responsible for the entire life cycle of the product and especially for the return, recycling and final disposal of the product. The extended producer responsibility is implemented through administrative, financial and informative instruments. The composition of these instruments determines the exact form of the extended producer responsibility.”

Our point of departure is that the biggest challenge in the textile sector is overproduction. The amount of clothes produced and sold has increased drastically in the past 20 years. This means that each individual garment is used less and less. In order to reduce environmental burdens, measures are therefore needed that not only address the product’s design but above all the quantity of products. It is those who produce the clothes that are used the least – or never even used at all – who emit the most. At the same time, it is the clothes that are worn the longest that burden the environment and waste systems the least. In other words, we want to take the waste hierarchy seriously by showing how EPR can prevent waste and not just stimulate increased reuse and recycling.

As a starting point, and in line with the beforementioned Eunomia report, we believe the aim of the scheme must be the reduction of environmental impacts. This is achieved most quickly and efficiently by reducing the EU’s production and import of new apparel and other textile products. But, for EPR to move towards a circular economy for textiles and not simply be an exercise in transferring costs, as the report formulates it, EPR must be designed smartly. One of the challenges with EPR, that the report points to, is precisely taking the waste hierarchy seriously, e.g., by not favouring recycling over reuse, ensuring that the environmental fee is high enough to have an effect on production volumes, and that the scheme includes the growing online shopping with direct imports.

The biggest challenge is overproduction: EPR must be designed accordingly

We are concerned that the measures proposed in the EU’s textile strategy (PEF, the Eco-design Directive and EPR) focus primarily on the product and its design together with end-of-life strategies (recycling), and thus not on the possible systemic changes that are pressing. In order to reduce the environmental impact of large volumes of textiles (fast fashion), measures are therefore needed that not only address the product’s design and strategies for prolonged- and end-of-life textiles, but also the number of products produced. If the EU is to achieve its goal of making fast fashion out of fashion, the means must be directed at factors that make fast fashion unprofitable. In extreme cases, we are talking about disposable products, in addition to the destruction of products that have never been used at all. It is not the design of each individual product that distinguishes fast fashion, which means that eco-design criteria will therefore not have the desired effect standing alone. A weakness of most of the EPR systems that have been implemented so far is that they do not take the issue of quantity seriously.

If the EU is to achieve its goal of making fast fashion out of fashion, the means must be directed at what makes fast fashion profitable: large volumes and rapid changes. The commission has been discussing a ban on greenwashing and planned obsolescence. In fact, fast fashion is planned obsolescence by definition. The clothes are not meant to last. Not because of bad quality or bad design, but because there is a new trend coming ever more often and faster.

The work on the development of PEF (Product Environmental Footprint) for clothing has also shown that it is extremely difficult to develop eco-design criteria for clothing, as the criteria for what constitutes good clothing are so varied and person-specific. Focusing on the product’s design does not capture the most important: whether there is an actual use for the product.

We believe that EPR can be designed so that quantity and speed are taken into account. This must be done by studying the use and disposal phases, and possibly also the quantity and speed of production. Those clothes that are used little and cost a lot to reuse/recycle will be the most expensive to put on the market.

If this is done and combined with sufficiently high fees, we ensure that one of the instruments in the textile strategy actually works, i.e., brings systemic change and is thus a true silver bullet.    

The importance of the use phase

By the use phase we mean the time the product is in use. The longer this is, the less waste is created. Currently, textile use is an area with limited knowledge and data, however, in order for the EPR rules to have an impact on fast fashion and the related overconsumption, it is highly important, that we make sure that an EPR scheme considers use-related aspects. The use phase for clothing can be measured in the number of times something is used, or how long it is used. The latter is far easier than the former to measure. Instead of trying to guess which products will be used for a long time and modulating the fee on design parameters, it is possible to measure how long products from different (larger) retailers remain in use. Using “picking analysis” (a type of waste audit, an established method for analysing waste streams), sample analyses of textile waste and textiles donated for reuse, an average usage phase can be estimated.

The system will be far more accurate when the year of production is included in the mandatory labelling of clothing, a long overdue requirement. The time-lapse from when the product is put on the market until it goes out of use will give the manufacturers a score which is then multiplied by the volumes of the various brands or collections that suppliers put on the market. The modulation of the fee should take into account the producers’/brands’ average usage phase.

The brands that are not found in the waste streams will be exempt from paying a fee. This may be because the products are perceived as so valuable by consumers that they remain in their possession. Differentiations based on clothing categories should, however, be included as some garment types are expected to have longer use phases than others, e.g, a coat versus a T-shirt.

Reuse and disposal phase

When more textiles are to be collected for reuse and recycling, and more is to be done in Europe rather than in the Global South, the costs of these processes will increase. If more is to be utilised at a higher level in the waste hierarchy, it will also cost more. Much of what is not reused today could be reused if the clothes were renewed, i.e. repaired, washed or stains were removed, which in turn captures the reuse value of these products but at the same time carries a cost. These activities and related business models are currently underfinanced, and they lack profitability due to the associated high costs of manual labour and the overload of big volumes of low-priced and low-quality fast fashion items with no or limited reuse value.  At the same time, certain textiles have a high value and can ensure a profit for collectors (e.g., resell business models where ca 5-10% of high-quality garments are sold on online platforms). It is important that all reusable textiles are given the opportunity to have longer lifespans, so if the EU is to aim to increase the reuse of textiles, preparation for reuse and repair activities must be financially supported by the EPR.

The same will apply to various forms of recycling: different products have different recycling costs. Some can be easily recycled; other textiles will not be recyclable at all or only if cost-intensive measures are first taken. As for the use phase, we, therefore, propose an average per brand based on how much the waste management costs. Those with a high reuse value and low cost of recycling will receive a lower fee, possibly an exemption in the end.

The modulation of the fee will thus consist of a combination of how long clothing from the brand is used on average and how costly better waste treatment is. Both evaluations can be made based on picking analyses that are repeated at regular intervals so that new brands, or improvements by already existing brands, can be captured. These analyses will also ensure increased knowledge about textile consumption and textile waste and will be important for statistics, research and regulation in the textile area. We have called this way of modulating the fee in an EPR system Targeted Producer Responsibility (TPR), which is described in ScienceNorway.no.

Production and marketing

The way EPR is usually conceived, the total tonnage of products placed on the market by an individual producer forms the starting point for the fee. But the quantities can also be used in the modulation of the environmental fee. It is possible to let those manufacturers who have many collections, a short timespan in-store for each individual product and also sell large volumes, incur a higher fee, which is then multiplied by the weight of what they place on the market. Proposals for such a fee modulation have been made by several Norwegian environmental organisations and can easily be combined with a TPR. It is also possible to use other parameters in the modulation, such as the proportion sold with reduced prices (the percentage that goes on sale), the proportion of returned goods, unsold goods, etc.

To summarise our proposal:

  • The EU has a golden opportunity to ensure a systemic change for the better of its citizens and the environment.
  • If we are to achieve the goal of reducing environmental impacts from textile production the quantities must be reduced. Less clothing is the prerequisite for each garment to be used longer, in line with the principles of the waste hierarchy and circular economy.
  • The measures proposed in the EU’s textile strategy (PEF; the Eco-design Directive and EPR) all focus on the product and its design, and thus not on the systemic changes. EPR on textiles can, if desired, be designed so that it changes the business models of fast fashion by making it less profitable, and those clothes that are used little and cost a lot to be reused and recycled also become unprofitable to put on the market.

The above concerns and suggestions were a selection of many, and we are aware that a successful EPR agenda in the EU will include many more elements and key areas for coherent consideration.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Sincerely,

Ingun Grimstad Klepp

Professor of Clothing and Sustainability, SIFO, OsloMet

Jens Måge

Technical Advisor, National Waste Association of Norway

Kerli Kant Hvass

Assistant Professor in Circular Economy, Aalborg University

Tone Skårdal Tobiasson

Author, journalist, founder NICE Fashion and Board member Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion 

Review of clothing disposal reasons

Authors: Kirsi Laitala and Ingun Grimstad Klepp, SIFO

Abstract

Garment lifetimes and longer serviceable life play important roles in discussions about the sustainability of clothing consumption.

A compilation of the research on clothing disposal motivations shows that there are three main reasons for disposal:

  1. Intrinsic quality (37%): Wear and tear-related issues such as shrinkage, tears and holes, fading of colour, broken zippers and loss of technical functions such as waterproofness.
  2. Fit (28%): Garments that do not fit either because the user has changed size, or the garment did not fit well to start with (for example due to unsuitable grading, insufficient wear ease or wrong size).
  3. Perceived value (35%): reasons where the consumer no longer wants the garment because it is outdated or out of fashion, or no longer is needed or wanted, or is not valued, for example when there is a lack of space in the wardrobe.

This shows that almost two-thirds of garments are discarded for reasons other than physical durability. Poor fit/design together with lack of perceived value by the owner are responsible for the majority of clothing disposals.

Physical strength is one of the several factors that are important if the lifetime of clothing is to be increased. However, it does not help to make clothes stronger if they are not going to be used longer anyway; this will just contribute to increased environmental impacts from the production and disposal phases. We do not need disposable products” that last for centuries. To work with reducing the environmental impacts of clothing consumption, it is important to optimize the match between strength, value and fit. This has the potential to reduce overproduction. Optimizing clothing lifespans will ensure the best possible utilization of the materials in line with the intentions of the circular economy.

Introduction

Garment lifetimes and longer serviceable life play important roles in discussions about the sustainability of clothing consumption.

Here we present the empirical findings summarized from the research that exists around clothing disposal. The review was originally conducted for the work with the development of durability criteria for Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCR) for apparel and footwear. We believe this can be useful information for companies working to improve their products, and debate about clothing sustainability including the understanding of PEF.

We would like to thank Roy Kettlewell and Angus Ireland for their cooperation.

Method

The review includes empirical quantitative studies on clothing disposal reasons. The studies use varying methods, where online surveys are the most commonly used, but also two physical wardrobe studies are included. The way disposal reasons are studied varies as well. Many surveys ask for general, most common disposal reasons, while wardrobe studies and a few of the surveys focus on specific garments that the informants have disposed of. One of the online wardrobe surveys also asks for anticipated disposal reasons for specific garments instead of past behavior. All of the studies have been conducted between 1987 and 2020. The review excluded any studies that did not focus on disposal reasons or did not report results in a quantitative manner. In addition, it excludes a few lower-quality studies with methodological issues. In total 17 studies that fulfil the inclusion criteria were found.

Results

The review shows that clothing is discarded for many reasons. Table 1 summarizes the results and gives some information about the study sample such as where it was conducted and the number of respondents, as well as the main method that was used. Although there are differences between the surveys, they show a common feature. The results on disposal reasons could be placed in three main categories that were found in all reviewed studies: 1) intrinsic quality, 2) fit, and 3) perceived value, and an additional category for 4) other or unknown reasons. The categories include the following disposal reasons:

  1. Intrinsic quality: Wear and tear-related issues such as shrinkage, tears and holes, fading of colour, broken zippers and loss of technical functions such as waterproofness.
  2. Fit: Garments that do not fit either because the user has changed size, or the garment did not fit well to start with (for example due to unsuitable grading, insufficient wear ease or wrong size).
  3. Perceived value: reasons where the consumer no longer wants the garment because it is outdated or out of fashion, or no longer is needed or wanted, or is not valued, for example when there is a lack of space in the wardrobe.

StudyResearch design and sample sizeIntrinsic qualityFitPerceived valueOther / unknown
AC Nielsen (Laitala & Klepp, 2020)Survey in five countries, 1111 adults aged 18-64, anticipated disposal reason of 40,356 garments4413359
WRAP (2017)Survey in the UK, 2058 adults, 16,895 garments, disposal reasons per clothing category past year1842337
Laitala, Boks, and Klepp (2015)Wardrobe study in Norway, 25 adults (9 men and 16 women), 396 discarded garments50162410
Klepp (2001)Wardrobe study in Norway, 24 women aged 34- 46. 329 discarded garments31153321
Collett, Cluver, and Chen (2013)Interviews in the USA, 13 female students (aged 18 – 28). Each participant brought five fast fashion items that they no longer wear413821
Chun (1987)Survey in the USA, 89 female students (aged 18 – 30). Most recent garment disposal reason.629569
Lang, Armstrong, and Brannon (2013)Survey in the USA, 555 adults. General garment disposal reasons.303139
Koch and Domina (1997)Survey in the USA, 277 students (82% female). General disposal reasons and methods.293833
Koch and Domina (1999) and Domina and Koch (1999)Survey in the USA, 396 adults (88% female). General disposal reasons and methods.213742
Zhang et al. (2020)Survey in China, 507 adults (53% female). General disposal reasons.43192216
Ungerth and Carlsson (2011)Survey in Sweden, 1014 adults (age 16 – 74). The most common disposal reason.608219
YouGov (Stevanin, 2019)Survey in Italy, 992 adults, general disposal reasons.31242025
YouGov (2017a, 2017b, 2017c, 2017d, 2017e)Surveys in Australia, Philippine, Malaysia, Hong Kong & Singapore, in total 12,434 adults. General disposal reasons.3925297
MeanApprox. 20,000 adults34.125.831.412.6
Table 1. Summary of clothing disposal reasons in 17 consumer studies.

When the category of other/unknown reasons is excluded, the division between the three main disposal reason categories is quite similar, with intrinsic quality constituting about 37% of disposal reasons, followed by lack of perceived value (35%) and poor fit (28%) (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Clothing disposal reasons

Conclusion

A compilation of the research on clothing disposal motivations shows that there are three main reasons for disposal. Intrinsic quality, that is wear and tear and other physical changes of garments is the dominating disposal reason (37%), followed by lack of perceived value (35%) and poor fit (28%). This shows that almost two-thirds of garments are discarded for reasons other than physical durability. Poor fit/design together with lack of perceived value by the owner are responsible for the majority of clothing disposals.

Physical strength is one of the several factors that are important if the lifetime of clothing is to be increased. However, it does not help to make clothes stronger if they are not going to be used longer anyways, this will just contribute to increased environmental impacts from the production and disposal phases. We do not need “disposable products” that last for centuries. To work with reducing the environmental impacts of clothing consumption, it is important to optimize the match between strength, value and fit. Optimizing clothing lifespans will ensure the best possible utilization of the materials in line with the intentions of the circular economy.

References

Chun, H.-K. (1987). Differences between fashion innovators and non-fashion innovators in their clothing disposal practices. (Master’s thesis). Oregon State University, Corvallis. https://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/v118rk195

Collett, M., Cluver, B., & Chen, H.-L. (2013). Consumer Perceptions the Limited Lifespan of Fast Fashion Apparel. Research Journal of Textile and Apparel, 17(2), 61-68. doi:10.1108/RJTA-17-02-2013-B009

Domina, T., & Koch, K. (1999). Consumer reuse and recycling of post-consumer textile waste. Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, 3(4), 346 – 359. doi:10.1108/eb022571

Klepp, I. G. (2001). Hvorfor går klær ut av bruk? Avhending sett i forhold til kvinners klesvaner [Why are clothes no longer used? Clothes disposal in relationship to women’s clothing habits]. Retrieved from Oslo: https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.12199/5390

Koch, K., & Domina, T. (1997). The effects of environmental attitude and fashion opinion leadership on textile recycling in the US. Journal of Consumer Studies & Home Economics, 21(1), 1-17. doi:10.1111/j.1470-6431.1997.tb00265.x

Koch, K., & Domina, T. (1999). Consumer Textile Recycling as a Means of Solid Waste Reduction. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 28(1), 3-17. doi:10.1177/1077727×99281001

Laitala, K., Boks, C., & Klepp, I. G. (2015). Making Clothing Last: A Design Approach for Reducing the Environmental Impacts. International Journal of Design, 9(2), 93-107.

Laitala, K., & Klepp, I. G. (2020). What Affects Garment Lifespans? International Clothing Practices Based on a Wardrobe Survey in China, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the USA. Sustainability, 12(21), 9151. Retrieved from https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/12/21/9151

Lang, C., Armstrong, C. M., & Brannon, L. A. (2013). Drivers of clothing disposal in the US: An exploration of the role of personal attributes and behaviours in frequent disposal. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 37(6), 706-714. doi:10.1111/ijcs.12060

Stevanin, E. (2019). Fast fashion: il continuo rinnovo del guardaroba. Retrieved from https://it.yougov.com/news/2019/05/27/fast-fashion-il-rinnovo-del-guardaroba/

Ungerth, L., & Carlsson, A. (2011). Vad händer sen med våra kläder? Enkätundersökning. Stockholm: http://www.konsumentforeningenstockholm.se/Global/Konsument%20och%20Milj%c3%b6/Rapporter/KfS%20rapport_april11_Vad%20h%c3%a4nder%20sen%20med%20v%c3%a5ra%20kl%c3%a4der.pdf

WRAP. (2017). Valuing Our Clothes: the cost of  UK fashionhttp://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/valuing-our-clothes-the-cost-of-uk-fashion_WRAP.pdf

YouGov. (2017a). Fast fashion: 27% of Malaysians have thrown away clothing after wearing it just once. Retrieved from https://my.yougov.com/en-my/news/2017/12/06/fast-fashion/

YouGov. (2017b). Fast fashion: 39% of Hong Kongers have thrown away clothing after wearing it just once. Retrieved from https://hk.yougov.com/en-hk/news/2017/12/06/fast-fashion/

YouGov. (2017c). Fast fashion: a third of Filipinos have thrown away clothing after wearing it just once. Retrieved from https://ph.yougov.com/en-ph/news/2017/12/06/fast-fashion/

YouGov. (2017d). Fast fashion: a third of Singaporeans have thrown away clothing after wearing it just once. Retrieved from https://sg.yougov.com/en-sg/news/2017/12/06/fast-fashion/

YouGov. (2017e). Fast fashion: Three in ten Aussies have thrown away clothing after wearing it just once. Retrieved from www.au.yougov.com/news/2017/12/06/fast-fashion/

Zhang, L., Wu, T., Liu, S., Jiang, S., Wu, H., & Yang, J. (2020). Consumers’ clothing disposal behaviors in Nanjing, China. Journal of Cleaner Production, 276, 123184.

Deep diving into wardrobes provides important knowledge on clothes and their environmental impact

Authors: Vilde Haugrønning, Ingun Grimstad Klepp and Anna Schytte Sigaard

Norway leads the way in methods for studying the use of clothing. This is knowledge that is important in sustainability studies of apparel.

How many clothes are there in our wardrobes? What is used a lot and what do you seldom wear, and why? Which clothes have the largest environmental footprint? What causes clothes to be cared for and repaired?

There are many unanswered questions when the desire is to understand the connection between the consumption of clothing, and climate and environmental impacts. We need to understand why someone has a wardrobe full of clothes and still nothing to wear. To answer these questions, methods that can reconcile the concrete material with the way we use, buy, repair, launder, choose and not least throw away clothes, are required.

The method called “wardrobe studies” is very central in studies of clothing’s environmental impact. Consumption Research Norway (SIFO) at Oslo Metropolitan University has been at the centre of the development of these methods for 23 years. Today, the method is included in research, teaching, product development and design worldwide.

Research in people’s homes

The method involves the researcher and informant going through the informant’s wardrobe piece by piece, together. In some studies, the entire wardrobe is reviewed and in others, selected parts such as passive clothes, leisure and sports clothes, or favourite clothes are specifically studied. When the clothes are reviewed, the researcher asks the same questions for each garment. This gives us opportunities to analyze differences in the way different garments are used.

The method is time-consuming but provides detailed and reliable knowledge. Ideally, we do this at the informants’ homes and thus also gain knowledge about details around the organisation, storage, laundering and care of the clothes.

Clothes are complex

Wardrobe studies are particularly suitable for studying practices that we often take for granted. The practices are important to understand in order to gain better knowledge of consumption patterns, and thus how they can be changed in a more sustainable direction. The special feature of the method is that the clothes are at the centre of the analysis.

Clothes are very complex materially, socially and culturally. They are made from most types of materials, from animals and plants, including metal and chemicals and increasingly plastic. They are used to camouflage the body, keep it warm, decorate, protect and show belonging to cultures, groups, places and positions in society. Clothes are important for self-respect, security and social participation.

In order to embrace so many different aspects and see them in context, methods are required which have the capacity to connect the actual material with the practices and their many different meanings, both for the individual and society.

What properties do the clothes have?

Wardrobe studies lead to more knowledge about the use of clothes. This stands in contrast to studies that are concerned with clothes related to fashion, often understood as the novelty value of the clothes. In such studies, some things are often excluded, namely the material properties of the clothes, as well as all the nuances in the relationship between the wearer of the clothes and the clothes themselves, and the interplay between the clothes in the wardrobe.

After conversations with people about clothes over several decades, we have rarely heard informants say that fashion is important to them, and it is much more common to say the opposite. Fashion is an aspect of our clothes, but for most people, there are completely different reasons for both what you buy and what you wear. Fashion can make it difficult to find something you like in the store, such as the colour you think suits you, or a shape that is perceived as flattering.

Few know how many clothes they own

To capture the material in wardrobe studies, various techniques are used to obtain information about each individual garment such as photos, interviews, registrations and technical analyses. This gives the advantage that the information becomes concrete and tied to both the material and social aspects, and thus not so dependent on words alone.

Clothing habits, like other parts of our daily lives, are something we don’t usually think about. Therefore, they are also difficult to put into words in a conversation or interview situation. It is easier to describe the clothes and how they are used when we talk about specific garments. It will then be possible for us researchers later to see the relationship between the clothes and the wearer, and pursue what lies behind the words.

Very few know the average age of their own wardrobe or how many clothes they actually have. We ask people about what they know and have a relationship with, but compile the information ourselves with national or global averages, or qualitatively based interpretations.

Knowledge to inform policy

Today, SIFO has several ongoing research projects with wardrobe studies: CHANGE, Wasted Textiles and Belong, all funded by the Research Council of Norway. Here the wardrobe studies are used to study how we use clothes for different occasions and the importance of variation in clothing habits, how we can reduce the amount of textiles and specifically synthetic textiles, and the importance of clothes for belonging.

In all projects, wardrobe studies contribute to important knowledge about the importance of clothing and textiles in our everyday lives. This knowledge is crucial to developing policies capable of drastically reducing climate and environmental impact, and at the same time ensuring everyone in the population has access to good clothing.

An important challenge in the work with clothing and the environment has long been very inadequate life cycle analyses (LCAs). Without knowledge of lifespan, disposable products are compared to clothes that are worn 500 times or more.

No one would argue that such a use of LCAs is correct, but going from this point of departure to finding methods to include lifespan in LCAs of environmental impact, is quite a challenge. SIFO has further developed the wardrobe studies method in a quantitative direction in order to obtain knowledge about global clothing habits suitable for such analyses.

Consumption is important

In these studies, we work with detailed information on 53,461 garments which gives the opportunity to ask questions about, for example, differences between different types of garments, fibres or what the clothes are used for. This is very relevant when the EU is now developing a new labelling scheme, the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF), which will include textiles. SIFO, therefore, contributes to the development of the rules specific to clothing in this labelling scheme. There, as in many other contexts, it is difficult to get the impression that consumption is important.

The work with wardrobe studies shows that in research it is not only important to develop good questions, but that the methods must also be adapted so that we researchers are able to deliver the knowledge that society needs. Climate and environmental problems cannot be solved without knowledge of people, society, politics and regulation. It is urgent to take the fact that we humans have created the problems seriously, but that we can also solve them. For that, we need more knowledge about ourselves and our habits and the way we use products that burden the climate and the environment a lot, such as apparel.

A comprehensive overview of research and projects that use wardrobe studies can be found on this web site and publications related to wardrobe studies can be found by clicking here.

This article draws on the following research:

Fletcher, K. and Klepp, I. G. (eds.) (2017) Opening Up the Wardrobe: A Methods Book. Oslo: Novus.
Klepp, I. G. and Bjerck, M. (2014) ‘A methodological approach to the materiality of clothing: Wardrobe Studies’, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 17(4), pp. 373-386.
Klepp, I. G., Laitala, K., & Wiedmann, S. (2020). Clothing Lifespans: What Should Be Measured and How. Sustainability, 12(15).
Laitala, K., Klepp, I. G. and Henry, B. (2018) ‘Does Use Matter? Comparison of Environmental Impacts of Clothing Based on Fiber Type’, Sustainability, 10(7).
Laitala, K., & Klepp, I. G. (2020). What Affects Garment Lifespans? International Clothing Practices Based on a Wardrobe Survey in China, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the USA. Sustainability, 12(21), 9151.

Hit them where it hurts: Producers of fast fashion should pay the most

Ingun Grimstad Klepp and Tone Skårdal Tobiasson

OPINION: How best to deal with the negative environ l impact of the clothing industry? The writers behind this opinion suggest a system in which those who sell large volumes of clothes that don’t last pay the most.

The EU’s new textile strategy  was launched at the end of March. An important tool is a so-called extended producer responsibility (EPR), which means that producers voluntarily or compulsorily pay for the environmental impacts from the product both in use and as waste.

Rapid growth in fast fashion and overproduction are the main problems in the textile sector. In order for the new strategy to contribute to solving these problems it must be targeted. We have a proposal for how this can be done and have called it targeted producer responsibility.

Those who pollute the most should pay the most

Click here to read the full op-ed (sciencenorway.no)

Click here to read the textile strategy (europa.eu) 

What does the Minister of the Environment think about apparel and the environment?

Tone Skårdal Tobiasson & Ingun Grimstad Klepp.

This is a translated version of an op-ed first published by tekstilforum.no. Click here to see the original version (tekstilforum.no)

This is not easy to ascertain from two answers sent to Conservative Member of Parliament Liv Kari Eskeland in response to her questions about the EU’s new Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) scheme, which is in danger of labeling natural fibers as the least environmentally friendly.

What we are wondering is simply whether Espen Barth Eide is not worried about the galloping use of polyester and acrylic, with subsequent problems such as microplastics and increasingly cheaper and worse clothes? Is he really for a further increase in the proliferation of synthetic clothing which, after a brief appearance in our wardrobes, is exported lightly used out of the country to an uncertain fate? And in case why? We do not know the answer, but will explain why we ask the questions.

The case is this. There have been repeated questions about PEF, also from the Conservative parliamentary representative Liv Kari Eskeland, who has been involved in the case on behalf of local textile industry. In the first answer, the Minister of Climate and Environment writes that he is familiar with «that synthetic textiles such as polyester are best when it comes to some environmental impacts, while for other environmental categories natural fibers have less negative impact». This was followed up by Eskeland, who is from Stord (the local small town) and who knows the wool industry well.

As a business-savvy person, she is politically engaged, lively concerned about possible threats to Norwegian businesses. The answer to her follow-up question is surprising because it does not discuss which areas synthetic fiber (ie plastic) are environmentally better than wool, but instead addresses the relationship between environmental impact from cotton and synthetic fibers. Why? Does the Minister think that all natural fibers are the same? And Norway has no cotton production, so here Norwegian business interests are not threatened, only Norwegian consumers’ access to a textile material they love.

The next issue in this ‘package of wonder’ is the scientific content. The Minister presents two different sources for the environmental benefits of plastics. One is land use. And yes, it is true that in life cycle analysis (LCA) the square meters of “space” a business takes, is heavily considered. It is almost in the nature of things that natural fibers take up more “space” in production than oil. But this comparison between square meters used, for example, for grazing against oil refineries is easy to criticize. Because there are very different “uses” of land, and grazing has not only negative, but also many positive effects (which are not included), and it is also a question of what the alternatives are.

Very few – and certainly not Barth Eide – think it would be exactly the same to have an oil refinery or a polyester factory versus pasturing sheep, as the nearest neighbor? And when the area it once took for dinosaurs and others to live and die, and then turn into oil, is not included, it is because time is not included in the calculation. Neither how long it has taken to produce the oil, nor the time it will take to break it down again. The comparison of the space to cultivate something against the space industry takes, shows first and foremost how such tools as LCAs fall short when nature and synthetics are compared directly. This is also the core of the criticism of PEF. And one of the reasons why over 60 EU politicians have now sent letters to the Commission, because they are concerned about the way this will be done in the planned labeling scheme (https://www.makethelabelcount.org/).

The other basis for his evaluation that the minister points to, is water consumption and again the comparison is polyester against cotton. There is a heated debate on this issue. It is almost a bit shocking that the documentation to which he refers is a report from SIFO from 2012. It is of course nice that SIFO’s work is valued, but this report is based on figures from 2007, which in turn are based on figures from the previous millennium. Knowledge about environmental impacts has changed a great deal in these years, and in general LCA is considered to be ‘fresh produce’ with a perishable date, and then we are talking about a few years before they lose their value. LCAs should be repeated at least every five years, many say every three.

Both we, Barth Eide and the report he refers to that compares fibers believe that the difference between the fibers is very small, global average figures taken into account, and that the most important thing is that clothes are made from the fibers that are best suited for the purpose. Then they are used for a long time and a lot, and then we appreciate them and take good care of them. The problem is that as PEF now develops, there will be large differences between the fibers, and it is the natural fibers that come out the worst. Many people actually like natural fibers, national costume shirts in linen, sweaters in wool, and maybe even a silk shawl or tie, but wool is no longer wool, but full of acrylic and polyester, and cotton is increasingly “polycotton”.

Polyester national costumes will hardly be inherited. In many products, plastic is best and the synthetic fibers are also much better than other fibers. However, the rapid increase in the use of synthetic fibers, and the even faster increase planned by the industry, has not come because synthetics are the best. Developing a labeling scheme that will label plastic as green is like pouring gasoline on the fire in a world that needs to cool down. Polyester is today over 60% of textile fiber production and the only way the fashion industry can continue to grow. This is also why the industry puts so much effort into greenwashing plastic. They can do this job just fine without the help of a Norwegian Minister of Climate and Environment or a European labeling schemes.

That’s why we’re wondering. Does Espen Barth Eide know what was actually in the letter he signed? We have a hard time believing that he is an ordinary plastic pusher, even though the government’s oil policy surprises more than us. Is his highest desire really to remove the few clothes that are still found in natural materials from the market? And make it even more difficult to make a living from wool production and the wool industry in Norway? Liv Kari Eskeland and the others in the Conservative Party are probably also wondering the same. That is why the Conservatives’ Mathilde Tybring-Gjedde, Sandra Bruflot and Mari Holm Lønseth presented a representative proposal in the Storting on 17 February for stricter requirements for the textile industry. The government is thus squeezed from both the right and the left in politics, and interestingly enough mainly by female representatives. The Conservative Party’s proposal includes PEF, and both the problems with plastic and microplastics are mentioned. If Barth Eide really wants a future clad in plastic, he now has the opportunity to say it loud and clear. We are waiting in anticipation.

From burial urns to surfboards – wool can be used to make just about anything

Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Lisbeth Løvbak Berg and Anna Schytte Sigaard.

OPINION: There’s no such thing as bad wool, only bad use.

In the Norwegian folk song Kråkevisa (The Crow Song), a man-made everything from a boat, to windows, to barrels of meat and fat from a bird he shot. There is a lot to learn from this – did you know that anything from burial urns, flowerpots, and surfboards to sanitary towels and diapers can be made from wool?

Wool can replace plastic

Poland is one of many EU countries where little or none of the wool produced is actually used. The Polish-Norwegian research project WOOLUME is working towards better utilisation of this resource, wool from Polish Mountain sheep. A new report from the project shows that anything from gardening products to insulation to personal hygiene products, as well as burial urns, coffins and surfboards are now being made of wool and has the potential to be made from the wool that is currently being thrown away in Poland and other EU countries, and that we call vacant wool. The products utilise the natural properties of wool, such as biodegradability, moisture absorbance, temperature regulation and nutritional content.

Several of these products, such as sanitary towels and diapers, are predominantly made of plastic. Microplastic pollution from the production, use and disposal of synthetic materials is a major environmental problem. According to the new national strategy on plastics, Norway alone emits an estimated 1017 tonnes of microplastics annually. Reducing the use of plastic we have little control over, such as in clothing and single-use products like sanitary towels and diapers, is therefore urgent. Wool is biodegradable and if not contaminated with toxic chemicals, wool products can be used as a fertilizer, for soil improvement or be composted after use.

Click here to read the full op-ed (sciencenorway.no)

The COP26 plastic uniforms are a disaster for the environment

Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Tone Skårdal Tobiasson, Ingrid Haugsrud

The UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, COP26, is in full swing. The event aims to be carbon neutral. The guests will be served local food and are encouraged to walk, cycle or use public transport. The clothes should also be environmentally friendly. A thousand volunteers have been given a small wardrobe to use during the climate conference. Glasgow City Council boasts of the “stylish uniforms” that are supposed to be made of “sustainable and recycled materials”, but without specifying what or how.

Sustainable materials?

Claims about sustainable materials are easily thrown around. Clothing production is a very complex process with many different stages. Most often, and also in the case of these uniforms, it is unclear what makes them sustainable. In our view, clothes that are called sustainable should be produced locally and with dyes, fiber and other inputs from, for example, regenerative agriculture (i.e. agriculture that builds the carbon content and the soil).

Why not develop a uniform based on local Scottish traditions and reuse?

The initial information released about the clothes did not state what they are made of, but by contacting the manufacturer, we got an answer. The hoodies, polo shirts, jackets and backpacks are all made from 100 percent recycled polyester from plastic bottles. The trousers are made from a mixture of 65 percent of the same polyester and 35 percent organic cotton. They provide no information about dyeing and finishing – the most polluting part of clothing production.

After repeated inquiries, we were told that the uniforms are produced in the UK and in Sri Lanka, but we do not know where the main stages of production is, or what clothes are produced where, nor where the raw materials come from or are processed.

Who will wear the clothes after the conference?

How long products are used, makes the biggest difference for both the climate and the environment. Clothes that you have not chosen yourself, but received from someone who does not know you, are typical garments that see little use. If they also have large logos and other things that make them time- and place-specific, the chance of reuse is small.

It is possible that Glasgow City Council and some of the volunteers think the clothes look nice, but we can safely say we aren’t enthusiastic. They would be better suited for the staff at a petrol station, but it is not the sale of fossil fuels that is on the agenda in Glasgow. However, since the “sustainable” material turned out to be from recycled plastic bottles, i.e. fossil origins, one could easily be fooled.

It is also possible that some of the thousands of volunteers have few clothes, and are happy for a gaudy top hat, black and blue shapeless trousers, a bulky outer jacket, a fleece jacket, polo shirt and a hoodie, but the chance that their closets are already full of similar and better garments is much greater.

In short: the clothes should not have been produced at all and of course not been described as “sustainable”.

A gift to the homeless after the summit

Avoiding waste is a stated goal for COP26, and this should be done through reuse, recycling and by taking design and material choices into account. The manufacturer states that there is a plan for what will happen to the clothes after the event.

The volunteers who do not want to keep their clothes can return them, and they will either be donated to the homeless or torn up and used for energy recovery.

The fact that these clothes can be handed in afterwards if the volunteers do not want to use them, does not make the matter any better. There is no shortage of easily used or unusable clothes for both reuse and energy recovery.

Are plastic clothes good for the climate?

In many of the tools available for comparing climate and environmental impacts of different textile materials, polyester, and especially recycled polyester, are highlighted as those with the least climate impact. At the same time, voices are being raised protesting against these truths, for example in this article in Impakter.

The basis for the comparisons are so-called life cycle analyses (LCA). These analyses aim to show a product’s environmental footprint from raw material extraction to disposal. For clothing, these LCAs are both few and incomplete, and much that can be achieved by choosing strategically among LCAs.

The independent analyst Veronica Bates-Kassatly describes how manufacturers have chosen LCAs that favor synthetic materials, and as a consequence are worst for nature. This is difficult to control, partly because privately owned HIGG Co., with its Material Science Index, the most widely used of such comparison tools, keeps its sources secret.

We would argue that no one knows if polyester is better for the climate, but there are some who stand to make a lot of money from claiming this, and that those who earn the most are the same ones behind this “truth”.

Recycled what then?

What is certain, however, is that polyester, and the other plastic materials used in clothing, are a significant source of spreading micro plastics to the sea, water and air. This also applies to recycled polyester.

None of the plastic-specific problems, the lack of degradability and the spread of micro plastics, are included in the calculations we mention above. PET bottles that are “recycled” into polyester fiber are in themselves a bad idea, according to the Changing Markets Foundation’s report on synthetic materials.

The properties embedded in the plastic used for bottles are not utilized in the clothes, and the bottle-to-bottle recycling system actually works better. The textile fibers deteriorate and therefore cannot be recycled, as one is capable to do with the bottles. This is of course why the manufacturers of these clothes will either give them away to the homeless or deliver them for energy recovery.

Local production as a solution

Scotland has a proud textile history, with Shetland wool, fantastic tweed and tartans – the checkered wool fabrics. Why not develop a uniform based on local Scottish traditions and reuse?

Yes, we understand that the volunteers must be recognizable, but to achieve this you only need one clearly visible garment, or bandola, or a fun hat.

Local production utilizes raw materials better, reduces transport, and not least the clothes stand up over time. The volunteers could have been a colorful flock with playful use of Scottish traditions. Using history as a resource for the future has many benefits, as do natural fibers.

Public procurement

The public sector is a major purchaser. Both the environmental and purchasing expertise of the very many who are responsible for buying textiles are in general a sad state. Therefore, we are currently working with a purchasing guide for public procurement of textiles in Norway.

If such initiatives are to contribute to a reduction in climate impact, they must not be hijacked by misguided ideas about «sustainable materials», but on the contrary, systems must be developed that ensure the procurement of good products that are utilized to the maximum through long use and good care.

To achieve this, good routines are needed for cooperation between buyer, user and supplier. The volunteer uniforms are thus a glaring example of how wrong things can go.

Climate vs. the environment

The climate crisis is serious. But so is the environmental crisis. “Saving” the climate by destroying the environment is not a good idea. Of course, this discussion is not just about clothes. The “emission-free” electric cars are, after all, only “emission-free” if you do not create emissions elsewhere and in other forms. The debate about wind turbines has many of the same ingredients.

Numbers and rankings are important tools in the climate and environmental debate. Therefore, we must be careful about who gets to decide what data is seen as robust and reliable. Things go wrong when the fox alone is allowed to guard the chickens, or the wolf the grandma, so to speak.

We must stop up and not let the same global giants who drown the world with bad plastic clothes also be allowed to drown us in the “truth” that their products are good for us and the planet. “Recycled” plastic clothing will never save the climate, and they are a disaster for the environment.

By the way: We never got to know what the knitted hat that tops it all is made of, but our tip is acrylic. Acrylic does not win any prizes for saving either the environment or for clothes that help to keep the wearer warm. It is possible that the conference had taken into account that global warming would make it superfluous for the hat to be knitted in their warm and wonderful Shetland wool.

Published by www.sciencenorway.no, click here to see the op-ed

Fossil Fashion: How Green Growth is Undermining the Circular Economy

Why the fashion industry, driven by the green growth notion, cannot recycle its way out of the climate crisis

By Tone Skårdal Tobiasson

Tone is co-editor of “Local, Slow and Sustainable Fashion Fibres: Wool as a Fabric For Change”, from Palgrave Macmillan, out on December 18, 2021.

As the world comes to terms with the climate crisis and the environmental devastation of our over-consumption, we are increasingly being told that switching to greener products will not only save us, but be good for the economy. This is the principle behind “green growth”, which encourages us to continue consuming as long as the products we buy are more sustainable. But could it be that someone is pulling wool over our eyes?

The fashion industry has become one of the main culprits in the blaming-and-shaming for carbon-emissions, and numbers have been thrown around at a rate that rivals fast fashion. One of the most used statistics is that textiles in 2015 emitted 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent or more than maritime shipping and international flights combined, a number that has since been challenged. However, the fashion industry is far from off the hook. 

Click here to read the full article (impakter.com).