Environmental impacts associated with the production, use, and end-of-life of a woollen garment

S.G. Wiedemann, L. Biggs, B. Nebel, K. Bauch, K. Laitala, I.G. Klepp, P.G. Swan and K. Watson.

Abstract

Purpose

The textiles industry is a substantial contributor to environmental impacts through the production, processing, use, and end-of-life of garments. Wool is a high value, natural, and renewable fibre that is used to produce a wide range of garments, from active leisure wear to formal wear, and represents a small segment of the global fashion industry. Woollen garments are produced by long, global value chains extending from the production of ‘greasy’ wool on sheep farms, through processing to garment make-up, retail, consumer use, and end-of-life. To date, there have been limited life cycle assessment (LCA) studies on the environmental impacts of the full supply chain or use phase of garments, with the majority of wool LCA studies focusing on a segment of the supply chain. This study aimed to address this knowledge gap via a cradle-to-grave LCA of a woollen garment.

Methods

This study investigated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, fossil fuel energy, and water stress associated with the production, use, and end-of-life of a lightweight woollen sweater (300-g wool), together with inventory results for freshwater consumption and land occupation. Primary datasets were used for the wool production and wool processing stages, while primary datasets relating to consumer garment use were supplemented with literature data. Impacts were calculated and reported per garment wear event.

Results and discussion

Impacts per wear were 0.17 (± 0.02) kg CO2-e GHG, 0.88 (± 0.18) MJ fossil energy, and 0.96 (± 0.42) H2O-e water stress. Fossil fuel energy was dominated by wool processing, with substantial contributions of energy also arising from retail and garment care. Greenhouse gas emissions from wool production (farming) contributed the highest proportion of impacts, followed by lower contributions from processing and garment care. Contributions to water stress varied less across the supply chain, with major contributions arising from production, processing, and garment use.

Conclusions

Opportunities to improve the efficiency of production, processing, and garment care exist, which could also reduce resource use and impacts from wool. However, the number of garment wear events and length of garment lifetime was found to be the most influential factor in determining garment impacts. This indicated that consumers have the largest capacity to influence the sustainability of their woollen garments by maximising the active garment lifespan which will reduce overall impacts.

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Use phase of apparel: A Literature review for Life Cycle Assessment with focus on wool.

Kirsi Laitala, Ingun Grimstad Klepp & Beverley Henry

Summary

This report presents a literature review of clothing use phase. The purpose is to support improved methodological development for accounting for the use phase in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of apparel. All relevant textile fibres are included in the review. However, the main focus is on wool. We ask whether the use of wool has different environmental impacts than clothes in other fibres. The report builds on a review of literature from the past 20 years. The review showed that clothing made from different materials are used, and reused in different ways. Wool is washed differently as it has about ten degrees lower washing temperature than the average laundry in Europe. Wool is also more likely to be either dry-cleaned or washed by hand than other textiles. Moreover, when dried, it is less likely to be tumble-dried.

When comparing the number of days between the washes of different types of clothes, we found that respondents were likely to use their woollen products about twice as long between washes compared to their equivalent cotton products. We also found that woollen products had a longer average lifespan and were more likely to be reused or recycled. There is a lot of research-based information available concerning the use and re-use of clothing, and we believe there are sufficient results available on which to base LCA studies. Furthermore, we believe that environmental tools that compare different fibres but exclude use phase provide misleading results. Including the use phase in fibre ranking benchmark tools will improve the rigour and accuracy of these tools for all fibres, compared to reporting results for fibre production only. However, we have also shown that there are several methodological, conceptual and empirical knowledge gaps in existing literature.

Click here to read the full report (researchgate.net)

Clothing disposal habits and consequences for life cycle assessment (LCA)

Kirsi Laitala & Ingun Grimstad Klepp

Abstract

This chapter discusses the effects of end-of-life scenarios to the life cycle assessment (LCA) calculations. Consumers’ decisions in the disposal phase of clothing are crucial from an environmental point of view, as they affect the lifespan of clothing, as well as the potential for reuse and recycling. In doing this, examples of Norwegian consumers’ clothing use and disposal practices are used.

We will present statistics for the current situation in Norway as well as qualitative material on clothing disposal practices and discuss disposal methods and frequencies. Instead of assuming that all clothes are disposed of equally regardless of type of garment, person and place, the LCA analyses should be nuanced in relation to knowledge of disposal practices. Analysis also shows also that if improvements are made in facilitating reuse, clothing lifespans could easily be prolonged.

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Environmentally Sustainable Textile Consumption—What Characterizes the Political Textile Consumers?

Marthe Hårvik Austgulen

Abstract

The textile and clothing industry is considered as one of the most polluting industries in the world. Still, the regulation of environmental hazards connected to the industry is very limited, and much responsibility is placed on the shoulders of consumers. One of the few ways that ordinary consumers can seek to influence the textile and clothing industry is through their own consumption practices and their wallet. This article departs from the discourse on sustainable consumption and the role of the consumer as an agent for change, and the article investigates the characteristics of the consumers who practice deliberate environmentally sustainable consumption of textiles and clothing. This is done through the lens of political consumption. Based on a cross-national survey conducted in five Western European countries, factors that have been found to predict general political consumption in previous research are tested on the field of textiles and clothing. The findings demonstrate both similarities and some discrepancies with previous studies of political consumption as well as significant country variations.

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Sustainable clothing design: use matters

Kirsi Laitala and Casper Boks

Abstract

Many life cycle assessment studies document that the use period is the most resource-demanding phase during the clothing life cycle. In this paper, we discuss how design can help to reduce the environmental impacts of clothing. Motives behind clothing disposal, acquisition practices and maintenance habits are analysed based on two surveys, qualitative interviews of households, and examination of disposed clothing. The main reasons for clothing disposal were changes in garments, followed by size and fit issues, taste-related unsuitability, situational reasons, functional shortcomings and fashion or style changes. Several design solutions can enable the users to keep and use the clothes longer, and reduce the need for laundering, thus potentially decreasing the total environmental effects of clothing consumption.

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