17 September 2013

Joint environmental efforts with Malmö to collect textiles after Almedalen

Mistra Future Fashions’ seminar at Almedalen was the starting signal for a cooperative venture with the City of Malmö. There, an initiative to introduce a system for clothes and textile recycling is now under way.

France has legislation on producer responsibility for clothing and textiles. The country therefore has infrastructure for recycling of clothes. During a seminar held by Mistra Future Fashion during Almedalen (‘Elm Valley’, a park in Visby, Gotland) Week Katarina Pelin, Director of the Environment Department of the City of Malmö (the municipality), talked about how Malmö is now taking the lead for this kind of development in Sweden.

‘There are plenty of ideas. But we decided to do something, bring together the operators who handle clothing waste and get them to devise solutions. We think that’s better than legislation, which is often reactive,’ Pelin says.

The panel at the Almedalen seminar included not only Katarina Pelin but also Emma Enebog, Sustainability Manager at Myrorna (Swedish Salvation Army Second Hand), and two members of the Riksdag: Elin Lundgren (Social Democratic Party) and Johan Hultberg (Moderate Party). The event was a continuation of a symposium on producer liability for clothing and textiles that was arranged by Mistra Future Fashion at Malmö University during the spring.

Discussion about future policy tools

Mistra Future Fashion is working for a sustainable global fashion industry. One of the eight projects of the programme is about policy development, and this was the theme of the seminar in Almedalen. Tom Nilsson is the project leader for Policy Instruments.

‘We have both an investigative research role and the task of trying to find reasonable ways forward. We’re also supposed to come up with proposals for recycling, for example. It’s a matter of seeing textiles as a natural resource that can and must be recycled,’ Nilsson says.

The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency is currently working to draw up an interim target in the system of national environmental objectives, jointly with researchers from Mistra Future Fashion and others. The plan is that this interim target will be a means of bringing about effective recycling of clothes. However, one constraint on this development is the various interests that exist in society. Clothes we no longer use have a value, not only as a natural resource.

‘They’re of value to the waste company, which gets paid to fetch and dispose of the garments. They’re of value to the incineration industry, which extracts energy from them. And clothes also have a value for voluntary organisations, which want to collect and resell them. So these different interests pull in different directions,’ Tom Nilsson says.

Plans for collection in Malmö

During the seminar, most people agreed: the environmental impact of the fashion industry is too heavy and some form of recycling system must be created. The industry itself, however, strives for voluntary agreements and is not in favour of legislation. One fear is that it would make clothes more expensive.

‘That doesn’t need to be the case. It hasn’t become more expensive to buy clothes in France,’ says Tom Nilsson.

At the meeting, Katarina Pelin stated her wish to extend the infrastructure for recycling of clothes to the same density as in France: one station per 1,500 inhabitants. She thinks it is natural to give greater responsibility for more textiles to the organisations that are already handling and selling clothes that are collected.

‘My vision is that Mistra Future Fashion could become the hub of this work,’ she says. In the autumn, she will sound out possible stakeholders on the scope for collaboration with the research programme.

At Almedalen, Mistra took part in other activities as well. Chris Folkesson Welch from Mistra’s secretariat, for example, attended a seminar on nanotechnology. Mistra’s Chief Executive Lars Erik Liljelund discussed the challenges of switching to renewable fuels, and researchers from the Stockholm Resilience Centre participated in a seminar on valuation of ecosystem services.

Text: Thomas Heldmark, Vetenskapsjournalisterna

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