This article discusses the importance of citizen involvement in reducing textile waste. The article refers to the Interreg Europe funded CECI – Citizen involvement in circular economy implementation project and the CECI Circular textiles survey, that was carried out in summer 2021. It is the first of the four articles concerning the textiles issue.
Authors: Barbora Pichlova, Antoine Delaunay-Belleville, Marjut Villanen & Katerina Medkova
Recently, the textile contamination has received a lot of attention and discussions. This is important since the textile industry is one of the world’s most polluting industries. Unfortunately, also the time the clothes are used, has been shortened. Among others, one problem is that 85 per cent of textile waste ends up at landfills. (Sitra 2017.)
Image 1: Clothes are available cheap and in large quantities. (Beliaikin 2018.)
There are many ways to make a change. By developing new and more sustainable business models, such as rental, or by designing circular products, that are easy to re-use and recycle, help to tackle the problems caused by textile use. Other important issue is to convince the consumers to buy less and higher quality clothes. Also steering consumer behaviour towards more sustainable possibilities plays an important role. (European Parliament 2019.)
Interreg Europe funded project CECI – Citizen Involvement in Circular Economy Implementation helps to develop regional policies and highlights the importance of citizen engagement (Interreg Europe 2021a). Collecting and sharing Good Practices between the project partners is one of the main ways of improving regional strategies and increasing citizen participation (Interreg Europe 2021b).
Image 2. CECI – Circular economy blooms through citizens involvement. (Rouhiainen 2020)
The textile industry is not only one of the most polluting, but also one of the least circular industries in the world. Citizen involvement has been shown to help change consumer habits and develop circular alternatives throughout the life cycle of clothing, from fibre and garment production to use and end of life. The good practices mentioned hereafter illustrate how better public policies, involving citizens, can help address some of the challenges confronting the textile industry, as exposed by the 2017 Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s report about the circular economy in fashion. (Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2017a.)
Image 3: The Ellen MacArthur infographic shows that most items of clothing are not dealt with appropriately, as 73% end up in landfills or incineration. (Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2017b, 12.)
Raising awareness, showing solutions, and giving alternatives
According to Laura Gay, from Clear Fashion, the first step to get citizens involved is to raise awareness. When people become more concerned about the negative aspects of the textile industry, they are more likely to change their habits. It is important not to make citizens feel guilty, but to show them that solutions and local alternatives are available. (Gay 2021.)
There are many ways to raise public awareness e.g., distributing a best practice guide that includes a list of pick-up/drop-off services in the area, or list of places that offer clothing repairs, or organising theme-based weeks that include awareness-raising actions, with an emphasis on increasing the visibility of local, sustainable brands and companies. Projects, such as Clear Fashion (Gay 2021) in France, and organizations and charities, such as WRAP (2021) in the UK and Refashion (2021) in France could be inspirational for further development.
Circular fashion is still something that is little known and often looked down upon, so it’s crucial to get the support of local authorities in order to change consumer perceptions. Public communication campaigns can be instrumental in convincing people to change their ways of living and consuming. Furthermore, they support local and sustainable initiatives that encourage citizens to switch to more sustainable, close-to-home solutions rather than focusing on cheap clothing and trendy brands.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation report about circular fashion, the four following points may sway decisions:
- Convenience and very low prices of second-hand stores (for low-income citizens).
- Uniqueness and originality (for middle or high-income citizens).
- Belonging to a community or having a positive impact (for citizens concerned about social or environmental issues).
- Health (for those who want to avoid chemicals in or on their body).
(Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2017a.)
Lengthening the lifespan of textiles
In the past, clothing was often shared among families and friends. With the advent of consumerism, textile production, and the associated production of waste, has continued to increase and, therefore, revers logistics needs to be organized. This has given rise to various collection processes and companies to capture value and close the textile loop.
The Spanish city of Zaragoza installed 150 bins to collect large amounts of textile waste. The bins were located in different parishes, shopping malls and schools. Altogether 1,374 tons of textiles were collected in 2020. The project brought together two initiatives; Todo Trapo and Tinser (two organizations that help people to get back into the workplace), funded by the European Social Fund. The organizations created jobs for workers who empty the recycling bins, and others who sort the collected textiles by type, condition, and quality. (Puente & Costa 2021.) Another good practice to sort and locally resell textiles has been experimented in Antwerp, Belgium (Interreg Europe 2021c).
Second-hand stores provide a way for thousands of citizens to give a second life to items they no longer use. They are excellent not just for reducing waste, but also for providing an easy way for people to change their wasteful habits. Second-hand stores can also contribute to the local circular economy and foster connections between public policies (e.g.: job creation, social inclusion). Examples, such as The Wall of Hope (Interreg Europe 2021d) and Patina (Interreg Europe 2021e) from Finland, strengthen solidarity between citizens, and accept all kinds of clothes from donors, while the Recyclerie Sportive (2021) in France, focuses solely on sportswear. To set up or create these circular activities, local groups, and platforms, such as the French REFER (2018) organization may be helpful.
To be able to extend the lifespan of textiles and to give them a second change, the first step is to buy high quality materials and the next important step is to take proper care of them. COFREET (2021) is a French organization appointed by GINETEX (the International Association for Textile Care Labelling) that helps consumers learn more about how to look after their clothes. It conducts surveys to better understand consumer demands and recently developed an app that provides tips to protect the environment for example by washing less often and at lower temperatures, drying clothes in the open air. (GINETEX 2021).
Although many public and corporate initiatives tackle environmental issues in the textile industry, so far none have succeeded in counteracting the bad habits of fast and linear fashion. As environmental issues become more critical, local authorities may be expected to take a stronger stance regarding circularity in the textile industry. One important measure is to involve citizens in this work.
Beliaikin, A. 2018. 994523. Pexels. [Cited 21 Oct 2021]. Available at: https://www.pexels.com/fi-fi/kuva/muoti-naine-vaatteet-mekko-994523/
COFREET. 2021. Cofreet. [Cited 07 Oct 2021]. Available at: https://www.lavermonlinge.com/FR/cofreet/le_cofreet.asp
Ellen MacArthur Foundation. 2017a. A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future. [Cited 23 Sep 2021]. Available at: https://emf.thirdlight.com/link/2axvc7eob8zx-za4ule/@/preview/1?o
Ellen MacArthur Foundation. 2017b. Global Material Flows for Clothing in 2015. based on Circular Fibres analysis. [Cited 07 Oct 2021]. Available at: https://emf.thirdlight.com/link/2axvc7eob8zx-za4ule/@/preview/1?o
European Parliament. 2019. Environmental impact of the textile and clothing industry: What consumers need to know. [Cited 28 Sep 2021]. Available at: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document.html?reference=EPRS_BRI%282019%29633143
Gay, L. 2021. Communication Manager. Clear Fashion. Interview on 10.05.2021
GINETEX. 2021. How to reduce climate impact, effort and money caring for fashion the clever way. [Cited 07 Oct 2021]. Available at: https://www.clevercare.info/en
Interreg Europe. 2021a. Project Summary. CECI. [Cited 07 Oct 2021]. Available at: https://www.interregeurope.eu/ceci/
Interreg Europe. 2021b. Project good practices. CECI. [Cited 07 Oct 2021]. Available at: https://www.interregeurope.eu/ceci/good-practices/
Interreg Europe. 2021c. Good practice: Improving textile waste collection. Policy Learning Platform. [Cited 23 Sep 2021]. Available at:
Interreg Europe. 2021d. Good practice: Trio shopping centre cooperated with third sector Hope association to perform sharing economy. Policy Learning Platform. [Cited 06 Oct 2021]. Available at https://www.interregeurope.eu/policylearning/good-practices/item/4668/trio-shopping-centre-cooperated-with-third-sector-hope-association-to-perform-sharing-economy/
Interreg Europe. 2021e. Good practice: Modern recycling centre, implementing sharing economy and social sustainability. Policy Learning Platform. [Cited 06 Oct 2021]. Available at: https://www.interregeurope.eu/policylearning/good-practices/item/4665/modern-recycling-centre-implementing-sharing-economy-and-social-sustainability/
Puente, D. & Costa, A. 2021. Dalevida a tu ropa!:Textile management in Zaragoza city. Presentation given at CECI Thematic Workshop on Textiles on 24 March 2021.
Recyclerie Sportive. 2021. Raison d’être. [Cited 23 Sep 2021]. Available at: https://recyclerie-sportive.org/notre-mission-et-nos-actions/raison-detre/
Refashion. 2021. Re_fashion. [Cited 23 Sep 2021]. Available at: https://refashion.fr/
REFER – Réseau Francilien du Réemploi. 2018. LE RÉSEAU FRANCILIEN DU RÉEMPLOI. [Cited 23 Sep 2021]. Available at: https://www.reemploi-idf.org/
Rouhiainen, O. 2020. Circular economy blooms through citizens involvement. CECI. [Cited 21 Oct 2021]. Available at: https://www.interregeurope.eu/ceci/news/news-article/11484/the-south-is-moving-the-lines-for-another-economy/
SITRA. 2017. Textile fibres from recycled mass. [Cited 7 Oct 2021]. Available at: https://www.sitra.fi/en/cases/textile-fibres-from-recycled-mass/
WRAP. 2021. What we do. [Cited 23 Sep 2021]. Available at: https://wrap.org.uk/what-we-do
Barbora Pichlova works as a community-building expert at makesense and a CECI advising partner
Antoine Delaunay-Belleville works as circular economy specialist at makesense and a CECI advising partner
Marjut Villanen works as an RDI specialist at LAB University of Applied Sciences and is the CECI Project Manager
Katerina Medkova works as an RDI specialist at LAB University of Applied Sciences and is the CECI Communication Manager.
Illustration: https://pxhere.com/fi/photo/1044785 (CC0)
Reference to this article
Pichlova, B., Delaunay-Belleville, A., Villanen, M. & Medkova, K. 2021. Involving citizen in textile recycling. LAB Pro. [Cited and date of citation]. Available at: https://www.labopen.fi/lab-pro/involving-citizen-in-textile-recycling/