||Environmental benefits from reusing clothes
||Farrant, Laura (QSA, MAN, DTU)
||Olsen, Stig Irving (Quantitative Sustainability Assessment, Department of Management Engineering, Technical University of Denmark, DTU, DK-2800 Kgs. Lyngby, Denmark)
Wangel, Arne (QSA, Department of Management Engineering, Technical University of Denmark, DTU, DK-2800 Kgs. Lyngby, Denmark)
||Technical University of Denmark, DTU, DK-2800 Kgs. Lyngby, Denmark
||Clothes are often discarded when much of their potential lifetime is left. Many charitable organizations therefore collect used clothing and resale it as second-hand clothes for example in Eastern Europe or Africa. It provides a source of cheap clothing particularly appreciated in developing countries and the funds raised by the second- hand clothes sales enable charities to finance development projects. However, in times of rising environmental awareness, the question also arises whether reusing clothes actually results in a decrease in the environmental
burden of the life cycle of clothing. The aim of the study was to assess the net environmental benefits brought by the disposal of used clothing through charities who return them for second-hand sales.
Most potential environmental benefits from reusing clothes come from the assumption that second-hand clothes replace the purchase of new clothes. An important part of the study was thus dedicated to estimating the quantity of clothes made from virgin material that is avoided by the introduction of clothes reuse. The methodology applied consisted in conducting a questionnaire-based survey on consumers in second-hand shops belonging to charitable
organizations. 132 people in Estonia, 73 in Sweden and 31 in Denmark took part in the survey. Based on the identification of the different profiles of the consumers questioned, a methodology has been developed to get a quantitative evaluation of the replacement of new clothes enabled by second-hand clothing consumption. It came out that the purchase of 100 second-hand garments would save:
60 new garments if the reuse takes place in Sweden
75 new garments if the reuse takes place in Estonia or in Lithuania
85 new garments if the reuse takes place in Africa
As no consumer survey was conducted in Africa, the estimation was based on information found in literature relative to the importance of second-hand clothing in Africa.
A Life Cycle Assessment was then conducted, based on the EDIP methodology. The impacts of the life cycle of garments that are directly disposed of by incineration after consumer use were compared with the impacts of the life cycle of garments that are collected and sorted
after consumer use to be reused. Two products were assessed: a cotton T-shirt and a pair of polyester (65%)/cotton (35%) trousers and the functional unit considered was 100 garments in the use stage. Based on the second-hand clothing activities conducted by Humana People to People in Sweden and Estonia, it was assumed that over the 100 collected items:
20 are bound for second-hand shops in Estonia or Sweden
30 are exported to Angola in Africa to be used as second-hand clothes
10 are exported to Lithuania to be used as second-hand clothes
30 are reycled as wipers
10 are landfilled
The study showed that the collection, processing and transport of second-hand clothing has insignificant impacts on the environment in comparison to the savings that are achieved by reducing the quantity of virgin clothing that is needed.
When 100 T-shirts enter the used clothes business, the environmental burden of the life cycle is decreased by 14% for global warming compared to the case where the items are directly discarded. For acidification and nutrient enrichment the impacts are reduced by about 28% and 25%, respectively. Concerning resource consumption, natural gas and crude oil consumptions are both decreased by about 15%. In addition, a 24% saving for human toxicity in soil and a 30% reduction of the waste generated have been estimated.
For 100 polyester (65%)/cotton (35%) trousers, the contribution to global warming is reduced by 23%, which exceeds the reduction observed for the T-shirts. Impact reductions for acidification and nutrient enrichment are similar to the one observed for the T-shirts. Natural
gas and crude oil consumptions are both decreased by about 20%. Regarding toxicity, the reduction of the human toxicity in water reaches about 45% while the human toxicity in soil is decreased by 30%. Waste is reduced by about 25%. The saving associated with reusing polyester/cotton trousers are on average higher than for T-shirts since the impacts during the raw material and manufacturing stages are more important.
The results of the study have therefore highlighted that clothes reuse can significantly contribute to reducing the environmental burden of clothing.
Creation date: 2009-04-03
Update date: 2009-04-03