Review of clothing disposal reasons

Authors: Kirsi Laitala and Ingun Grimstad Klepp, SIFO

Abstract

Garment lifetimes and longer serviceable life play important roles in discussions about the sustainability of clothing consumption.

A compilation of the research on clothing disposal motivations shows that there are three main reasons for disposal:

  1. Intrinsic quality (37%): Wear and tear-related issues such as shrinkage, tears and holes, fading of colour, broken zippers and loss of technical functions such as waterproofness.
  2. Fit (28%): Garments that do not fit either because the user has changed size, or the garment did not fit well to start with (for example due to unsuitable grading, insufficient wear ease or wrong size).
  3. Perceived value (35%): reasons where the consumer no longer wants the garment because it is outdated or out of fashion, or no longer is needed or wanted, or is not valued, for example when there is a lack of space in the wardrobe.

This shows that almost two-thirds of garments are discarded for reasons other than physical durability. Poor fit/design together with lack of perceived value by the owner are responsible for the majority of clothing disposals.

Physical strength is one of the several factors that are important if the lifetime of clothing is to be increased. However, it does not help to make clothes stronger if they are not going to be used longer anyway; this will just contribute to increased environmental impacts from the production and disposal phases. We do not need disposable products» that last for centuries. To work with reducing the environmental impacts of clothing consumption, it is important to optimize the match between strength, value and fit. This has the potential to reduce overproduction. Optimizing clothing lifespans will ensure the best possible utilization of the materials in line with the intentions of the circular economy.

Introduction

Garment lifetimes and longer serviceable life play important roles in discussions about the sustainability of clothing consumption.

Here we present the empirical findings summarized from the research that exists around clothing disposal. The review was originally conducted for the work with the development of durability criteria for Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCR) for apparel and footwear. We believe this can be useful information for companies working to improve their products, and debate about clothing sustainability including the understanding of PEF.

We would like to thank Roy Kettlewell and Angus Ireland for their cooperation.

Method

The review includes empirical quantitative studies on clothing disposal reasons. The studies use varying methods, where online surveys are the most commonly used, but also two physical wardrobe studies are included. The way disposal reasons are studied varies as well. Many surveys ask for general, most common disposal reasons, while wardrobe studies and a few of the surveys focus on specific garments that the informants have disposed of. One of the online wardrobe surveys also asks for anticipated disposal reasons for specific garments instead of past behavior. All of the studies have been conducted between 1987 and 2020. The review excluded any studies that did not focus on disposal reasons or did not report results in a quantitative manner. In addition, it excludes a few lower-quality studies with methodological issues. In total 17 studies that fulfil the inclusion criteria were found.

Results

The review shows that clothing is discarded for many reasons. Table 1 summarizes the results and gives some information about the study sample such as where it was conducted and the number of respondents, as well as the main method that was used. Although there are differences between the surveys, they show a common feature. The results on disposal reasons could be placed in three main categories that were found in all reviewed studies: 1) intrinsic quality, 2) fit, and 3) perceived value, and an additional category for 4) other or unknown reasons. The categories include the following disposal reasons:

  1. Intrinsic quality: Wear and tear-related issues such as shrinkage, tears and holes, fading of colour, broken zippers and loss of technical functions such as waterproofness.
  2. Fit: Garments that do not fit either because the user has changed size, or the garment did not fit well to start with (for example due to unsuitable grading, insufficient wear ease or wrong size).
  3. Perceived value: reasons where the consumer no longer wants the garment because it is outdated or out of fashion, or no longer is needed or wanted, or is not valued, for example when there is a lack of space in the wardrobe.

StudyResearch design and sample sizeIntrinsic qualityFitPerceived valueOther / unknown
AC Nielsen (Laitala & Klepp, 2020)Survey in five countries, 1111 adults aged 18-64, anticipated disposal reason of 40,356 garments4413359
WRAP (2017)Survey in the UK, 2058 adults, 16,895 garments, disposal reasons per clothing category past year1842337
Laitala, Boks, and Klepp (2015)Wardrobe study in Norway, 25 adults (9 men and 16 women), 396 discarded garments50162410
Klepp (2001)Wardrobe study in Norway, 24 women aged 34- 46. 329 discarded garments31153321
Collett, Cluver, and Chen (2013)Interviews in the USA, 13 female students (aged 18 – 28). Each participant brought five fast fashion items that they no longer wear413821
Chun (1987)Survey in the USA, 89 female students (aged 18 – 30). Most recent garment disposal reason.629569
Lang, Armstrong, and Brannon (2013)Survey in the USA, 555 adults. General garment disposal reasons.303139
Koch and Domina (1997)Survey in the USA, 277 students (82% female). General disposal reasons and methods.293833
Koch and Domina (1999) and Domina and Koch (1999)Survey in the USA, 396 adults (88% female). General disposal reasons and methods.213742
Zhang et al. (2020)Survey in China, 507 adults (53% female). General disposal reasons.43192216
Ungerth and Carlsson (2011)Survey in Sweden, 1014 adults (age 16 – 74). The most common disposal reason.608219
YouGov (Stevanin, 2019)Survey in Italy, 992 adults, general disposal reasons.31242025
YouGov (2017a, 2017b, 2017c, 2017d, 2017e)Surveys in Australia, Philippine, Malaysia, Hong Kong & Singapore, in total 12,434 adults. General disposal reasons.3925297
MeanApprox. 20,000 adults34.125.831.412.6
Table 1. Summary of clothing disposal reasons in 17 consumer studies.

When the category of other/unknown reasons is excluded, the division between the three main disposal reason categories is quite similar, with intrinsic quality constituting about 37% of disposal reasons, followed by lack of perceived value (35%) and poor fit (28%) (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Clothing disposal reasons

Conclusion

A compilation of the research on clothing disposal motivations shows that there are three main reasons for disposal. Intrinsic quality, that is wear and tear and other physical changes of garments is the dominating disposal reason (37%), followed by lack of perceived value (35%) and poor fit (28%). This shows that almost two-thirds of garments are discarded for reasons other than physical durability. Poor fit/design together with lack of perceived value by the owner are responsible for the majority of clothing disposals.

Physical strength is one of the several factors that are important if the lifetime of clothing is to be increased. However, it does not help to make clothes stronger if they are not going to be used longer anyways, this will just contribute to increased environmental impacts from the production and disposal phases. We do not need «disposable products» that last for centuries. To work with reducing the environmental impacts of clothing consumption, it is important to optimize the match between strength, value and fit. Optimizing clothing lifespans will ensure the best possible utilization of the materials in line with the intentions of the circular economy.

References

Chun, H.-K. (1987). Differences between fashion innovators and non-fashion innovators in their clothing disposal practices. (Master’s thesis). Oregon State University, Corvallis. https://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/v118rk195

Collett, M., Cluver, B., & Chen, H.-L. (2013). Consumer Perceptions the Limited Lifespan of Fast Fashion Apparel. Research Journal of Textile and Apparel, 17(2), 61-68. doi:10.1108/RJTA-17-02-2013-B009

Domina, T., & Koch, K. (1999). Consumer reuse and recycling of post-consumer textile waste. Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, 3(4), 346 – 359. doi:10.1108/eb022571

Klepp, I. G. (2001). Hvorfor går klær ut av bruk? Avhending sett i forhold til kvinners klesvaner [Why are clothes no longer used? Clothes disposal in relationship to women’s clothing habits]. Retrieved from Oslo: https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.12199/5390

Koch, K., & Domina, T. (1997). The effects of environmental attitude and fashion opinion leadership on textile recycling in the US. Journal of Consumer Studies & Home Economics, 21(1), 1-17. doi:10.1111/j.1470-6431.1997.tb00265.x

Koch, K., & Domina, T. (1999). Consumer Textile Recycling as a Means of Solid Waste Reduction. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 28(1), 3-17. doi:10.1177/1077727×99281001

Laitala, K., Boks, C., & Klepp, I. G. (2015). Making Clothing Last: A Design Approach for Reducing the Environmental Impacts. International Journal of Design, 9(2), 93-107.

Laitala, K., & Klepp, I. G. (2020). What Affects Garment Lifespans? International Clothing Practices Based on a Wardrobe Survey in China, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the USA. Sustainability, 12(21), 9151. Retrieved from https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/12/21/9151

Lang, C., Armstrong, C. M., & Brannon, L. A. (2013). Drivers of clothing disposal in the US: An exploration of the role of personal attributes and behaviours in frequent disposal. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 37(6), 706-714. doi:10.1111/ijcs.12060

Stevanin, E. (2019). Fast fashion: il continuo rinnovo del guardaroba. Retrieved from https://it.yougov.com/news/2019/05/27/fast-fashion-il-rinnovo-del-guardaroba/

Ungerth, L., & Carlsson, A. (2011). Vad händer sen med våra kläder? Enkätundersökning. Stockholm: http://www.konsumentforeningenstockholm.se/Global/Konsument%20och%20Milj%c3%b6/Rapporter/KfS%20rapport_april11_Vad%20h%c3%a4nder%20sen%20med%20v%c3%a5ra%20kl%c3%a4der.pdf

WRAP. (2017). Valuing Our Clothes: the cost of  UK fashionhttp://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/valuing-our-clothes-the-cost-of-uk-fashion_WRAP.pdf

YouGov. (2017a). Fast fashion: 27% of Malaysians have thrown away clothing after wearing it just once. Retrieved from https://my.yougov.com/en-my/news/2017/12/06/fast-fashion/

YouGov. (2017b). Fast fashion: 39% of Hong Kongers have thrown away clothing after wearing it just once. Retrieved from https://hk.yougov.com/en-hk/news/2017/12/06/fast-fashion/

YouGov. (2017c). Fast fashion: a third of Filipinos have thrown away clothing after wearing it just once. Retrieved from https://ph.yougov.com/en-ph/news/2017/12/06/fast-fashion/

YouGov. (2017d). Fast fashion: a third of Singaporeans have thrown away clothing after wearing it just once. Retrieved from https://sg.yougov.com/en-sg/news/2017/12/06/fast-fashion/

YouGov. (2017e). Fast fashion: Three in ten Aussies have thrown away clothing after wearing it just once. Retrieved from www.au.yougov.com/news/2017/12/06/fast-fashion/

Zhang, L., Wu, T., Liu, S., Jiang, S., Wu, H., & Yang, J. (2020). Consumers’ clothing disposal behaviors in Nanjing, China. Journal of Cleaner Production, 276, 123184.

DELIVERING EU ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY THROUGH FAIR COMPARISONS OF NATURAL AND SYNTHETIC FIBRE TEXTILES IN PEF

Make the Label Count Campaign: Simon J. Clarke, Ingun G. Klepp, Kirsi Laitala and Stephen G. Wiedemann.

Summary

Sustainability has become a priority objective for the European Union (EU). It is a key driver for policy development through the global leadership role the EU has taken in addressing climate change, decoupling economic growth from resource use, and the sustainable use of
resources. The global supply of textiles has been recognized by the EU as a major source of emissions and resource use; the sector has become increasingly reliant on fossil feedstocks to supply synthetic fibres, and the textile industry has been roundly criticised for unsustainable and non-circular consumption patterns.


The Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) system – which assesses a product’s environmental impact and provides consumers with information on that impact – has the potential to be paramount in directing the textile sector towards a sustainable system of production and consumption. However, the PEF system has not been designed to deliver the EU’s strategies and, without amendment, its application to the textiles sector risks undermining the EU’s laudable intent. The PEF system is designed to facilitate like-with-like comparisons, but assessment of textiles made from natural and synthetic fibres are not yet comparable because the impacts of forming natural fibres are fully accounted for, but omitted for fossil fuels. The single biggest sustainability issue for the textile industry is the growth in synthetic fibre production and the causally related rise in fast fashion. A PEF-derived comparison will not challenge the over-consumption of resources, and risks legitimising unsustainable consumption with an EU-backed green claim.


These limitations present a significant challenge to the delivery of both EU strategy and the PEF goal of providing fair comparisons of products based on their environmental credentials.


In combination, the characteristics of the textiles category, together with the limitations of PEF methodology, provide a strong argument for not comparing textiles made from renewable and non-renewable raw materials. However, achieving the EU Green Deal and circular economy objectives mandates a pragmatic approach; hence our analysis recommends methodological improvements to deliver EU environmental policy through fair comparisons of natural and synthetic fibre textiles in PEF. Addressing these limitations now will avoid
the same problems arising when PEF is applied to other product categories that compare renewable and non-renewable raw materials, such as furniture and fuel.

Click here to read the full report (makethelabelcount.org).

Acoustic Performance of Sound Absorbing Materials Produced from Wool of Local Mountain Sheep

Katarzyna Kobiela-Mendrek, Marcin Bączek, Jan Broda, Monika Rom, Ingvild Espelien and Ingun Klepp

Abstract

Wool of mountain sheep, treated nowadays as a waste or troublesome byproduct of sheep husbandry, was used for the production of sound-absorbing materials. Felts of two different thicknesses were produced from loose fibres. Additionally, two types of yarn,ring-spun and core rug, were obtained. The yarns were used for the production of tufted fabric with cut and loop piles. During the examinations, basic parameters of the obtained materials were determined. Then, according to standard procedure with the use of impedance tube, the sound absorption coefficient was measured, and the noise reduction coefficient (NRC) was calculated. It was revealed that felt produced from coarse wool exhibits high porosity, and its sound-absorbing capacity is strongly related to the felt thickness. For thicker felt the NRC achieved0.4, which is comparable with the NRC of commercial ceiling tiles. It was shown that the crucial parameter influencing the sound absorption of the tufted fabrics was the pile height. For both types of yarns, when the height of the pile was increased from 12 to 16 mm, the NRC increased from 0.4 to 0.42. The manufactured materials made from local wool possess good absorption capacity, similar to commercial products usually made from more expensive wool types. The materials look nice and can be used for noise reduction as inner acoustic screens, panels, or carpets.

Click here to read the full article (mdpi.com).

Local clothing: What is that? How an environmental policy concept is understood

Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Vilde Haugrønning & Kirsi Laitala

The textile industry is characterized by global mass production and has an immense impact on the environment. One garment can travel around the world through an extensive value chain before reaching its final consumption destination. The consumer receives little information about how the item was produced due to a lack of policy regulation. In this article, we explore understandings of ‘local clothing’ and how the concept could be an alternative to the current clothing industry. The analysis is based on fifteen interviews with eighteen informants from Western Norway as part of the research project KRUS about Norwegian wool. Five ways of understanding local clothing were identified from the interviews: production, place-specific garments, local clothing habits, home-based production and local circulation. We lack a language with which to describe local clothing that covers local forms of production as an alternative to current clothing production. As such, the article highlights an important obstacle to reorganization: local clothing needs a vocabulary among the public, in politics and in the public sector in general, with which to describe the diverse production processes behind clothing and textiles and their material properties.

Klikk her for å se artikkelen (ingentaconnect.com)

The Consumer Perception of Odour

Ingun Grimstad Klepp & Kirsi Laitala

Human olfaction sense is one of the highly underestimated senses since historical times. Fortunately, this has changed in recent times, as the perception of odour or scent by people has received increasing attention through several research works from different scientific disciplines. Our sense of smell and scent affects our lives more than previously assumed, influencing how we think, act, and behave. Odours both evoke and create memories. The perception of odours is also culturally and situationally dependent. However, there is still a lot that we don’t know about the influence of odour or scent on an individual’s characteristics and odour studies are hindered by the lack of vocabulary. The effect of pleasant odour on the shopping behaviours of customers is one highly researched area, while very few studies have focused on body odour perception. Most of the time body odour is related to self-hygiene and cleanliness, but understanding about the complete social aspects behind odour perception by humans is still at an infant stage. This chapter reviews the current status of consumer research on body odour and environmental odour or scent perception. The chapter also addresses the role of textile materials on body odour perception.

Bokkapittel i Odour in Textiles: Generation and Control (taylorfrancis.com)

Textile Cleaning and Odour Removal

Kirsi Laitala, Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Vilde Haugrønning

Consumers’ textile care practices today are characterized by frequent laundering. The importance of the removal of odours has increased, especially the smell of sweat. This chapter summarizes knowledge about removing odour from textiles. It provides information on suitable cleaning methods for different textile fibres and types of soils. The considered cleaning methods include laundering, stain removal, airing, hand wash, and professional cleaning methods. The cleaning result from laundering depends on water, washing temperature, length of washing cycle, types and amounts of laundry chemicals, and mechanical agitation applied. Textile material and type of soil that needs removal will determine the right mix of these factors.

Inherent fibre properties affect the soiling characteristics of garments. Comparisons of odours retained in textiles have shown that wool has the least intensive odour, followed by cotton, and synthetic polyester and polyamide garments have the most intense odour. Most textiles can be washed with water and detergents, which are more efficient in the removal of many odorous soils than dry-cleaning, but low-temperature laundering and/or lack of chemical disinfectants such as bleaches can contribute to odour build-up in textiles and in the washing machine. These aspects contribute to the environmental impacts of textiles.

Bokkapittel i Odour in Textiles: Generation and Control (taylorfrancis.com).

Woolume: Potential new products from vacant wool

Anna Schytte Sigaard, Lisbeth Løvbak Berg og Ingun Grimstad Klepp

Sammendrag

Denne rapporten gir en oversikt over markedet for ullprodukter med et potensiale til å bli laget av underutnyttet ull. Arbeidet er basert på en skrivebordsundersøkelse og intervjuer med produsenter og distributører, med fokus på ullprodukter og kvalitetene til disse. Rapporten er den andre leveransen i arbeidspakke 2 i WOOLUME prosjektet. Hovedmålet til WOOLUME er å utforske om ull fra polske fjellsauer kan bli brukt for å oppnå bedre ressursutnyttelse og verdiskapning. Produsentene som ble identifisert brukte ull i følgende kategorier produkter: dyrking, jordforbedring, isolasjon og personlig hygiene, så vel som andre nye og alternative ullprodukter. Funnene viser en rekke produkter som utnytter ullens mange ulike egenskaper, både de estetiske og tekniske. De viser også at ull har potensialet til å erstatte syntetiske materialer i flere bruksområder og dermed skape virkelig sirkulære produkter, såframt ullen er behandlet på en måte som bevarer dens biologiske nedbrytbarhet. Selv om merinoull dominerer markedet, utnytter flere produsenter andre kvaliteter og lokale raser og interessen for å bruke underutnyttet ull, ofte kastet fordi det anses kun å være et biprodukt av kjøtt-og melkeproduksjon, er voksende. Likevel er det videre muligheter for å optimalisere ressursutnyttelse ved å bruke underutnyttet ull, spesielt ikke spinnbar ull med høyere fibertykkelse, i produkter der hvor finheten og spinnbarheten til merinoull ikke er nødvendig.

Her kan du lese hele rapporten på engelsk (oslomet.no).

Product lifetime in European and Norwegian policies

Nina Heidenstrøm, Pål Strandbakken, Vilde Haugrønning og Kirsi Laitala

Sammendrag

Formålet med denne rapporten er å få en bedre forståelse av hvordan produktlevetid har blitt posisjonert i politikken de siste tjue årene. Ved bruk av dokumentanalyse undersøker vi forekomsten og kontekstualiseringen av produktlevetid i EUs sirkulærøkonomipolitikk, norske partiprogrammer og offisielle dokumenter, dokumenter fra norske miljøorganisasjoner, forbrukerorganisasjoners politikk og produktpolitikk. Samlet finner vi at det er lite fokus på produktlevetid mellom 2000-2015, menat det har vært en stor økning i fokus de siste fem årene. Imidlertid er det fremdeles lang vei å gå i arbeidet med å utvikle tiltak som faktisk adresserer produktlevetid.

Klikk her for å lese hele rapporten på engelsk (oda.oslomet.no).

WOOLUME: Mapping the market for acoustic and sound absorbing products made of wool

Anna Schytte Sigaard og Vilde Haugrønning

Sammendrag

Denne rapporten er første leveranse fra arbeidspakke 2 i WOOLUME-prosjektet. Hovedmålet med WOOLUME er å utforske ulike måter å bruke ull fra polske fjellsau for å oppnå bedre utnyttelse av ressurser og økt verdiskaping. Målet med rapporten har vært å kartlegge markedet for akustiske og lydabsorberende produkter laget av ull for å undersøke potensialet for å innføre grov ull som materiale. Dette er gjort gjennom skrivebordsundersøkelser og intervjuer med fokus på ullens egenskaper som et naturlig produkt. Funnene viser at selv om menneskeskapte materialer som polyester dominerer på markedet for akustiske produkter på grunn av lavere priser, foretrekkes ull som materiale på grunn av dets naturlige egenskaper i tillegg til det estetiske. Produsenter som bruker ull anser produktene sine som eksklusive, hvor målgruppen er kunder som ønsker produkter av god kvalitet og som er villige til å betale en høyere pris for å oppnå dette. Imidlertid er det få produsenter som bruker grov ull i disse produktene, og mange er laget av ren merinoull. Bruk av merinoull som ofte anses å være av svært fin kvalitet på grunn av det lave mikronantallet samsvarer ikke med idealet om god ressursutnyttelse. Derfor foreslår vi å bruke grov ull som i dag bare blir kastet som biprodukt til kjøttproduksjon. Merino kan i stedet brukes til produkter der finhet og mykhet er viktigere egenskaper, som for eksempel i klær. I tillegg argumenterer vi for at råheten og unikheten ved grov ull er positivt med tanke på estetikk og noe som styrker posisjonen til ullakustiske produkter som eksklusive.

Klikk her for å lese hele rapporten på engelsk (oda.oslomet.no).

Durable or cheap? Parents’ acquisition of children’s clothing

Ingun Grimstad Klepp & Vilde Haugrønning

Abstract

Parents are faced with a plurality of choices and concerns when it comes to the acquisition of clothing for their children. This paper explores how parents employ longevity in consumption of children’s clothing from a practice-oriented perspective. The material consists of 6 focus groups with 40 parents who have at least one child under the age of 18. The aim of the groups was to establish children’s clothing needs: how many they need of each garment, how long parents expect the garment to last and what they understand as quality in clothing.

The analysis shows that parents mainly opt for an ‘one or the other’ strategy; they choose what they understand as quality, often affiliated with specific brands, and accept paying more for the garment, or they mainly choose based on low prices, and expect less of the garment. Quality is evaluated based on the garments’ durability and function. More specifically, the parents measure the service lifetime of a garment based on the number of seasons it lasts, either in terms of wear and tear or the child growing out of it. The expected lifetime is defined by uncertain sources, from their own and friends’ experiences, and their desire to justify their own choices as well as routinised practices.

Our discussion section employs these findings and contextualise them within product lifetime discourses. By doing this, we provide knowledge about how quality is understood, and how brand and price are used as indicators. We show how lack of information about products, especially on garments, leads to uninformed consumption practices that have consequences for how quality and longevity are prioritised and understood.

Click here to read the full article (www.ul.ie)