Towards Understanding Sustainable Textile Waste Management: Environmental impacts and social indicators
Global population growth and rising living standards have increased apparel consumption, and the generation of textile and clothing waste. This has raised concerns about lost resources and the environmental damage associated with these flows. The sustainable development of textile waste management from both environmental and social perspectives is explored in this thesis.
The first part of this thesis investigates the environmental impact of different options for textile waste treatment. In Sweden, the predominant method of textile waste treatment is incineration. The question is whether this is environmentally optimal or whether an alternative should be pursued by policy-makers. For this reason, three alternative textile waste recycling techniques were examined: the remanufacturing of new products from textile waste with adequate quality; the separation of cellulose from polyester using N-methylmorpholine-N-oxide as a solvent; and the chemical recycling of polyester. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) was applied to estimate the carbon footprint and primary energy saved by each technique. The findings show that by applying these recycling technologies, the recovered products can provide major environmental gains since they may be able to replace products from primary resources.
The second part of the thesis focuses on the social sustainability aspects of textile waste treatment. There are a number of social concerns related to different textile waste management routes such as job creation, labour conditions and trading conditions. Social Life Cycle Assessment (SLCA) is one of the recently developed methodologies for assessing the potential positive and negative social impacts throughout the life cycle of a product or service. One of the challenges associated with carrying out an SLCA is the potentially large number of social indicators which need to be assessed. In order to provide a set of social indicators, this paper identified consumers’ priorities for social indicators and investigated the similarities and differences between the perspectives of consumers and industry professionals. The findings show that the top 10 indicators prioritised by consumers are related to health and safety, child labour, fair salary, employment security, equal opportunities, discrimination, respect for human rights, avoiding misleading marketing and the voluntary promotion of social responsibility by companies. From industry’s perspective the value chain and local communities were also important, so indicators such as avoiding unfair competition and having the possibility of filing complaints, appeared in the 10 top ranked indicators. This analysis allows some recommendations to be made regarding the future development of labels such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) label. These results suggest some ecolabels may need to adjust focus to maintain salience with consumers.
Keywords: Textile waste management, Textile recycling, Sustainability, Life cycle assessment, Social life cycle assessment, Social indicators