Last 10 years we watch a global shift from end of pipe waste management to waste prevention and reuse concepts. This shift clearly moves us closer to resource management optimization processes rather than the typical waste management activities. It concerns more industrial supply chains than the waste management industry and the usual end of pipe solutions.
But at the same time it provides a new practical view on how we deal with waste. It helps us a lot to understand waste as an indication of inefficient production and consumption patterns. In other terms, it helps us to understand that Waste is a Choice, as my friend Maarten Goorhuis (ISWA STC Vice-Chair and Chair of the ISWA Working Group on Recycling and Waste Minimization) usually says starting his presentations about waste prevention.
A good example of that way of thinking is given by some initiatives in the textile & clothing manufacturing sector. The real importance of them is that they try to combine effectiveness in waste prevention by utilizing personal attitudes and behavioral trends. Let’s see more details.
We all know that rapidly changing fashions increase the production and consumption of textiles and clothing. And definitely, they also increase the amount of end of life clothes that are driven to waste, in one or another way. Despite improvements in the environmental impacts in the manufacture of textile and clothing over the last 25 years, the overall volume of production and consumption of these products has increased. The relocation of manufacturing from Western countries to Asian nations and more efficient production has reduced the cost of clothing and textiles, but this has had the unintended consequence of increasing consumption and counteracting some of the environmental benefits of new manufacturing technologies.
In addition, the fast cycles of fashion and deliberately planning products to have a limited lifespan have shortened the life cycle of textiles and clothing. Garments have become cheaper, the quality reduced and clothes are typically worn for only a short time before disposal. Although reuse and recycling of clothing has also increased, this only partly offsets the increased levels of textile consumption, the proliferation of textile waste, and the environmental and social impacts, (such as where and how fibres are cultivated) associated with higher volumes of textiles and clothing production.
A recent study (Niinimäki, K., Hassi, L. (2011) Emerging design strategies in sustainable production and consumption of textiles and clothing. Journal of Cleaner Production 19: 1876-1883) provided the suggestion that a more sustainable production and consumption of clothing could be achieved if consumer values are used to rethink design and business strategies. A good example could be an increased personalization of clothing that could increase both consumer attachment to products and their useful lifetime.
The study explored different design strategies that increase the lifespan of textiles and clothing by making the consumer the centre of the innovation processes. It argues that innovative thinking about how consumers experience and value textiles and clothes is needed for more sustainable production and consumption.
For example, the use of a product could be extended if it is designed to be personalized. This would allow consumers to develop an emotional attachment with the garment or textile and can be achieved by mass customization of products using fast digital manufacturing technologies that enable consumers to select from a variety of styles and colors to design their own look. Digital textile printers, embroidery and laser cutting machines can design products tailored to an individual’s specifications.
The manufacture of ‘halfway products’, for example, kits that offer consumers the opportunity to creatively assemble (and repair) the product could also increase attachment and usage, as could clothing designed with detachable parts that can be customized by the consumer.
In addition, designers can co-create products with consumers to increase attachment to the product, for example, through the internet, with consumers making the final design decisions. Services that focus on consumer needs can also be used to extend the lifetime use of textiles and clothing and postpone product replacement. For example, high-quality garments that can be used in renting, leasing, lending or sharing schemes; and services that modify the garments can all be offered. New business opportunities could be found in this switch to a services-orientated economy; manufacturers can offer higher quality garments, increase customer satisfaction and extend the use of the product.
At least, we hope that this may be a succesful initiative – after all if waste prevention becomes trendy, there will be positive impacts worldwide, especially in the global interconnected cities where fashion plays a crucial role…