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28 June 2013

Producer responsibility could make clothing industry more sustainable

In France, the clothing industry has to collect what it sells. Producer responsibility for clothes and how such a scheme could work in Sweden were the focus of the spring programme meeting for Mistra Future Fashion.

There was keen interest in the open programme meeting held by Mistra Future Fashion at Malmö University at the end of May. Altogether, it attracted 150 people from universities, research institutes, the fashion and clothing industry, government agencies, charities and other organisations, to discuss the forms that clearer producer responsibility in the Swedish fashion sector could take.

‘The pressure was so great that we were fully booked within a week. It was even difficult for our own researchers to get in. The fact that people from so many different stakeholders attended gave us extensive outreach for our research, and the outcome was good debates and discussions,’ says Åsa Östlund, the deputy programme director for Mistra Future Fashion, who works at SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden.

Östlund was among those jointly responsible for the meeting with the programme’s research team in Malmö who are studying policy instruments relating to sustainable fashion. The main theme for the day was producer responsibility for clothing: this means that those who produce clothes are also responsible for collecting and recycling them, in a way similar to that of present-day producer responsibility for packaging, for example.

A system of this kind for clothing has existed in France since 2009. Lauriane Tiard of Eco TLC, which was formed by the industry to take charge of the system, relates that there are now 25,000 locations ¬¬— shops and collection sites — around the country where clothes can be handed in. Altogether, 150,000 tonnes of textiles are received annually and the bulk is sorted and reused, especially in Africa. A quarter of the garments go for recycling, where the materials are given a new life as simple textiles.
‘The sector is funding the system, and it also includes support for research. But not much money comes in, and only a small percentage goes to research: a total of 2.5 million kronor a year. It’s surprisingly little, and nowhere near enough to develop the technology needed to scale up the recycling industrially,’ Åsa Östlund says.
In Sweden, on behalf of the Nordic Council, IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute is devising strategies for extending producer responsibility to products like clothing.

Views on opportunities for and obstacles to producer responsibility in Sweden were aired in a panel debate, where opinions sometimes diverged. Which is the best way forward — compulsory political controls or voluntary initiatives from the sector?
Åsa Östlund relates that, during the day, researchers from Mistra Future Fashion also presented current developments in recycling of textile fibres, new business models, consumer behaviour and sustainable clothing design at various workshops.

‘This resulted in good discussions and exchange with users on the spot. It’s also pleasing to see that our interdisciplinary breadth in the programme is now really beginning to bear fruit. Everyone sees the usefulness of their research in the other parts of the programme.’

Text: Andreas Nilsson, Vetenskapsjournalisterna

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