Improved waste management of textiles – Environmentally improved recycling. Sweden 2011

From the Summary: In Sweden, we consume 15kg of textiles per capita and year. Of this roughly 8kg are incinerated and 3kg are reused by charity organisations. The remaining 4kg either accumulates (e.g. in a closet or wardrobe) or are handled through other means of waste management where it is difficult to measure (e.g. recycling centres). This way of waste management is not optimal from an environmental point of view. The textile waste flows are small by weight but large by environmental impact. The production of virgin textiles give rise to about 15 kg of carbon dioxide per kg textile and uses large amount of water; energy and chemicals and poses a risk both for the environment and human health.

Policies and measures to reduce the consumption of virgin textile are needed. Hindrances for a more sustainable textile waste management are primarily economical: The environmental cost is not incorporated in the production of virgin textiles which is one of the reasons that they are cheap compared to reused and recycled textiles. Virgin textiles are produced in low cost countries while collection for reuse by nature occurs in Sweden where labour is more expensive. Large scale recycling of textiles is due to economic reasons not performed in Sweden today.

There is a need to optimise the formal reuse of textiles from an environmental point of view, either with policy or with voluntary agreements. Policies in this area must be designed not to reduce
informal reuse to achieve a higher environmental benefit. New cost efficient methods for textile recycling needs to be developed to enable high grade recycling of textiles not suitable for reuse.

New textiles should be designed for reuse and/or recycling depending on their expected life time (aesthetic; technical) while conventional materials to a large extent needs to be replaced by more sustainable materials.