Reducing Plastic in Consumer Goods: Opportunities for Coarser Wool

Lisbeth Løvbak Berg, Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Anna Schytte Sigaard, Jan Broda, Monika Rom and Katarzyna Kobiela-Mendrek.

Abstract

Production and use of plastic products have drastically increased during the past decades and their environmental impacts are increasingly spotlighted. At the same time, coarse wool, a by-product of meat and dairy production, goes largely unexploited in the EU. This paper asks why more coarse wool is not used in consumer goods, such as acoustic and sound-absorbing products, garden products, and sanitary products. This is answered through a SWOT analysis of results from a desktop study and interviews with producers of these products made from wool, as well as policy documents relating to wool, waste, textiles, and plastic. Findings show that on a product level, the many inherent properties of wool create opportunities for product development and sustainability improvements and that using the coarser wool represents an opportunity for replacing plastics in many applications as well as for innovation. This is, however, dependent on local infrastructure and small-scale enterprises, but as such, it creates opportunities for local value chains, value creation, and safeguarding of local heritage. The shift to small-scale and local resource utilization requires systemic change on several levels: Here the findings show that policy can incentivize material usage transitions, but that these tools are little employed currently.

Click here to read the full paper (mdpi.com).

Natural and Sustainable? Consumers’ Textile Fiber Preferences

by Anna Schytte Sigaard  and Kirsi Laitala

Abstract

Textile fibers have become a major issue in the debate on sustainable fashion and clothing consumptionWhile consumers are encouraged to choose more sustainable and circular textile materials, studies have indicated that a reduction in production and consumption has the greatest potential to reduce the total environmental impact. This can be considered an ecocentric perspective with a focus on degrowth as opposed to a technocentric view where new technologies are expected to solve environmental problems while economic growth continues. Based on a survey in Norway (N = 1284), we investigate how the techno- and ecocentric perspectives impact Norwegian consumers’ fiber preferences and perceptions and the corresponding effects on their clothing consumption. We found that the majority of consumers preferred natural fibers compared to synthetic materials. This contradicts current market practices and the recommendations by material sustainability comparison tools such as the Higg Material Sustainability Index (MSI), where many synthetics receive better ratings than natural fibers. We also found that perceptions of high sustainability regarding fibers were negatively correlated with reduced consumption. Our study suggests that a continued focus on material substitution and other technological measures for reducing climate change will impede the move toward sustainability in the textile sector.

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

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

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Delivering EU Environmental Policy Through Fair Comparisons of Natural and Synthetic Fibre Textiles in PEF

Make the Label Count Campaign: Simon J. Clarke, Ingun G. Klepp, Kirsi Laitala and Stephen G. Wiedemann.

Summary

Sustainability has become a priority objective for the European Union (EU). It is a key driver for policy development through the global leadership role the EU has taken in addressing climate change, decoupling economic growth from resource use, and the sustainable use of
resources. The global supply of textiles has been recognized by the EU as a major source of emissions and resource use; the sector has become increasingly reliant on fossil feedstocks to supply synthetic fibres, and the textile industry has been roundly criticised for unsustainable and non-circular consumption patterns.


The Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) system – which assesses a product’s environmental impact and provides consumers with information on that impact – has the potential to be paramount in directing the textile sector towards a sustainable system of production and consumption. However, the PEF system has not been designed to deliver the EU’s strategies and, without amendment, its application to the textiles sector risks undermining the EU’s laudable intent. The PEF system is designed to facilitate like-with-like comparisons, but assessment of textiles made from natural and synthetic fibres are not yet comparable because the impacts of forming natural fibres are fully accounted for, but omitted for fossil fuels. The single biggest sustainability issue for the textile industry is the growth in synthetic fibre production and the causally related rise in fast fashion. A PEF-derived comparison will not challenge the over-consumption of resources, and risks legitimising unsustainable consumption with an EU-backed green claim.


These limitations present a significant challenge to the delivery of both EU strategy and the PEF goal of providing fair comparisons of products based on their environmental credentials.


In combination, the characteristics of the textiles category, together with the limitations of PEF methodology, provide a strong argument for not comparing textiles made from renewable and non-renewable raw materials. However, achieving the EU Green Deal and circular economy objectives mandates a pragmatic approach; hence our analysis recommends methodological improvements to deliver EU environmental policy through fair comparisons of natural and synthetic fibre textiles in PEF. Addressing these limitations now will avoid
the same problems arising when PEF is applied to other product categories that compare renewable and non-renewable raw materials, such as furniture and fuel.

Click here to read the full report (makethelabelcount.org).

Acoustic Performance of Sound Absorbing Materials Produced from Wool of Local Mountain Sheep

Katarzyna Kobiela-Mendrek, Marcin Bączek, Jan Broda, Monika Rom, Ingvild Espelien and Ingun Klepp

Abstract

Wool of mountain sheep, treated nowadays as a waste or troublesome byproduct of sheep husbandry, was used for the production of sound-absorbing materials. Felts of two different thicknesses were produced from loose fibres. Additionally, two types of yarn,ring-spun and core rug, were obtained. The yarns were used for the production of tufted fabric with cut and loop piles. During the examinations, basic parameters of the obtained materials were determined. Then, according to standard procedure with the use of impedance tube, the sound absorption coefficient was measured, and the noise reduction coefficient (NRC) was calculated. It was revealed that felt produced from coarse wool exhibits high porosity, and its sound-absorbing capacity is strongly related to the felt thickness. For thicker felt the NRC achieved0.4, which is comparable with the NRC of commercial ceiling tiles. It was shown that the crucial parameter influencing the sound absorption of the tufted fabrics was the pile height. For both types of yarns, when the height of the pile was increased from 12 to 16 mm, the NRC increased from 0.4 to 0.42. The manufactured materials made from local wool possess good absorption capacity, similar to commercial products usually made from more expensive wool types. The materials look nice and can be used for noise reduction as inner acoustic screens, panels, or carpets.

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

Local clothing: What is that? How an environmental policy concept is understood

Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Vilde Haugrønning & Kirsi Laitala

The textile industry is characterized by global mass production and has an immense impact on the environment. One garment can travel around the world through an extensive value chain before reaching its final consumption destination. The consumer receives little information about how the item was produced due to a lack of policy regulation. In this article, we explore understandings of ‘local clothing’ and how the concept could be an alternative to the current clothing industry. The analysis is based on fifteen interviews with eighteen informants from Western Norway as part of the research project KRUS about Norwegian wool. Five ways of understanding local clothing were identified from the interviews: production, place-specific garments, local clothing habits, home-based production and local circulation. We lack a language with which to describe local clothing that covers local forms of production as an alternative to current clothing production. As such, the article highlights an important obstacle to reorganization: local clothing needs a vocabulary among the public, in politics and in the public sector in general, with which to describe the diverse production processes behind clothing and textiles and their material properties.

Click here to see the article (ingentaconnect.com)

Textile Cleaning and Odour Removal

Kirsi Laitala, Ingun Grimstad Klepp & Vilde Haugrønning

Consumers’ textile care practices today are characterized by frequent laundering. The importance of the removal of odours has increased, especially the smell of sweat. This chapter summarizes knowledge about removing odour from textiles. It provides information on suitable cleaning methods for different textile fibres and types of soils. The considered cleaning methods include laundering, stain removal, airing, hand wash, and professional cleaning methods. The cleaning result from laundering depends on water, washing temperature, length of washing cycle, types and amounts of laundry chemicals, and mechanical agitation applied. Textile material and type of soil that needs removal will determine the right mix of these factors.

Inherent fibre properties affect the soiling characteristics of garments. Comparisons of odours retained in textiles have shown that wool has the least intensive odour, followed by cotton, and synthetic polyester and polyamide garments have the most intense odour. Most textiles can be washed with water and detergents, which are more efficient in the removal of many odorous soils than dry-cleaning, but low-temperature laundering and/or lack of chemical disinfectants such as bleaches can contribute to odour build-up in textiles and in the washing machine. These aspects contribute to the environmental impacts of textiles.

Book chapter in Odour in Textiles: Generation and Control (taylorfrancis.com).