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 Perceived value (35%): reasons where the consumer no longer wants the garment because it is outdated or out of fashion, or no longer is needed or wanted, or is not valued, for example when there is a lack of space in the wardrobe.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.

Garderobestudier

Garderobestudier er en metode for å få kunnskap om klesforbruk. Klesforskerne ved SIFO har stått helt sentralt i utviklingen av dem siden 2001 da Klepp gjennomførte en studie av hvorfor kvinner kaster klær. Her finnes en oversikt over bruken av metoden i SIFOs forskning, og hvor gode beskrivelser av metoden finnes. Garderobestudier er velegnet for studier av klær og miljø fordi den forener konkret kunnskap om klærne med hvordan de brukes. 

På denne linken finner du en oversikt over publikasjoner med garderobestudier, under finner du tekstene sortert på tema innenfor garderobestudier.

Lærebok med 50 ulike varianter av garderobestudier egnet for alle som vil prøve ut metoden: 

Fletcher, K. and Klepp, I. G. (eds.) (2017) Opening Up the Wardrobe: A Methods Book. Oslo: Novus. 

Artikler der metoden og dens historie beskrives:  

Klepp, I. G. and Bjerck, M. (2014) ‘A methodological approach to the materiality of clothing: Wardrobe Studies’, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 17(4), pp. 373-386. 

Garderobestudier med vekt på å forstå hvordan klær går ut av bruk i Norge: 

Klepp, I. G. (2001). Hvorfor går klær ut av bruk? Avhending sett i forhold til kvinners klesvaner. Retrieved from Oslo: https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.12199/5390 

Laitala, K., & Boks, C. (2012). Sustainable clothing design: Use matters. Journal of design research, 10(1/2), 121-139. doi:10.1504/JDR.2012.046142 

Laitala, K. (2014). Clothing consumption – An interdisciplinary approach to design for environmental improvement. (PhD thesis). Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/11250/229724 

Laitala, K., & Klepp, I. G. (2015). Clothing disposal habits and consequences for life cycle assessment (LCA). In S. S. Muthu (Ed.), Handbook of life cycle assessment (LCA) of textiles and clothing (pp. 345-365). Cambridge: Woodhead Publishing (Elsevier Ltd). 

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

Kvalitative garderobestudier brukt for å få innsikt i klesvaner:  

Aall, C., Klepp, I. G., Støa, E., Engeset, A. B., & Skuland, S. (2011). Leisure and sustainable development in Norway: part of the solution and the problem. Leisure Studies, 30(4), 453-476. doi:10.1080/02614367.2011.589863 

Bjerck, M. (2017). Apparel at work. Work uniforms and women in male-dominated manual occupations. Copenhagen Business School, Copenhagen. 

Haugsrud, I. (2016). Sikre kort, kjærlighet og minner – En studie av seks personers verdifulle klær. Høgskolen i Oslo og Akershus 

Hebrok, M., Klepp, I. G., & Turney, J. (2016). Wool you wear it? – Woollen garments in Norway and the United Kingdom. Clothing Cultures, 3(1), 67-84. doi:10.1386/cc.3.1.67_1 

Klepp, I. G., & Laitala, K. (2018). Shared use and owning of clothes: Borrow, steal, or inherit. In I. S. Cruz, R. Ganga, & S. Wahlen (Eds.), Contemporary Collaborative Consumption – Trust and Reciprocity Revisited (pp. 153-177). Wiesbaden, Germany: Springer. 

Kvantitative globale garderobestudier: 

Klepp, I. G., Laitala, K., & Wiedmann, S. (2020). Clothing Lifespans: What Should Be Measured and How. Sustainability, 12(15). 

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.  

Wiedemann, S. G., Biggs, L., Nebel, B., Bauch, K., Laitala, K., Klepp, I. G., . . . Watson, K. (2020). Environmental impacts associated with the production, use, and end-of-life of a woollen garment. The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 25(8), 1486–1499. doi:10.1007/s11367-020-01766-0 

Wiedemann, S. G., Biggs, L., Nguyen, Q. V., Clarke, S. J., Laitala, K. and Klepp, I. G. (2021) ‘Reducing environmental impacts from garments through best practice garment use and care, using the example of a Merino wool sweater’, The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment

Pågående prosjektene der garderobestudier anvendes:  

CHANGE: Grønt skifte i klesforbruket, se mer på denne linken.

Wasted Textiles, se mer på denne linken.

Belong, se mer på denne linken.

What Affects Garment Lifespans? International Clothing Practices Based on a Wardrobe Survey in China, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the USA

Kirsi Laitala and Ingun Grimstad Klepp

Abstract

Increasing the length of clothing lifespans is crucial for reducing the total environmental impacts. This article discusses which factors contribute to the length of garment lifespans by studying how long garments are used, how many times they are worn, and by how many users. The analysis is based on quantitative wardrobe survey data from China, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the USA. Variables were divided into four blocks related respectively to the garment, user, garment use, and clothing practices, and used in two hierarchical multiple regressions and two binary logistic regressions.

The models explain between 11% and 43% of the variation in clothing lifespans. The garment use block was most indicative for the number of wears, while garment related properties contribute most to variation in the number of users. For lifespans measured in years, all four aspects were almost equally important. Some aspects that affect the lifespans of clothing cannot be easily changed (e.g., the consumer’s income, nationality, and age) but they can be used to identify where different measures can have the largest benefits. Several of the other conditions that affect lifespans can be changed (e.g., garment price and attitudes towards fashion) through quality management, marketing strategies, information, and improved consumer policies.

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

Wool you wear it? – woollen garments in Norway and the United Kingdom

Marie Hebrok, Ingun G. Klepp & Joanne Turney

Abstract

This article was developed from the project ‘Valuing Norwegian Wool’ initiated by the Norwegian National Institute for Consumer Research to generate knowledge on how wool can contribute to sustainable textile consumption, and how value creation can be increased in the Norwegian wool industry. The article will compare consumer perceptions, attitudes, practices and knowledge concerning wool as a material and as garments in Norway and in the United Kingdom, through a case study of wardrobes owned by six middle-class families.

The aim is to generate knowledge about the diverse web of aspects that influence consumption of woollen garments. The wardrobe study as a method aims to include the materiality of garments in clothes research in a more direct way. Analysing the materiality in connection with the social and cultural aspects of clothes gives us a better understanding of the relations between materiality and practice.

Click here to read the full article (southampton.ac.uk)

A methodological approach to the materiality of clothing: Wardrobe studies

Ingun Grimstad Klepp and Mari Bjerck

Abstract

The material is not just ‘a carrier of different types of symbols, but an active element in the practices. Bringing this to the fore requires new research methods. This article discusses a methodological approach, we call it a wardrobe study, which allows for the analysis of the way in which clothes relate to each other on the whole or within parts of the wardrobe. More specifically, we discuss how this method can contribute to increasing the materiality of clothes studies. The theoretical point of departure for this approach is a practice theory in which the material enters as an integral part. First, the article briefly discusses developments within the study of dress and fashion. Second, the methods combined and developed in wardrobe studies are discussed. The emphasis here is primarily not only on the weaknesses of the individual methods in practice-oriented dress studies, but also on how they jointly can contribute to the wardrobe study.

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

Valuing Norwegian Wool

Marie Hebrok, Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Tone S. Tobiasson, Kirsi Laitala, Marit Vestvik & Madeline Buck

Summary

Wool has been called the white gold and has warmed and brought joy to the Norwegian population throughout history. It is also a textile fibre with many unused features. The starting point of the project Valuing Norwegian Wool is a desire to help Norwegian agriculture, wool based industry, and design to exploit the potential inherent in Norwegian wool as raw material, and in the Norwegian textile tradition. Norway has a thriving textile industry and several strong companies that produce products made of wool. The marketing of the origin of the raw material these products are produced from is however rather inadequate and sometimes misleading. While fewer and fewer of the products are made of Norwegian wool, consumers – not without reason – take it for granted that Norwegian producers use Norwegian wool.

The project is funded by the Norwegian Research Council and led by SIFO. The project partners include representatives from the entire value chain – from agricultural organizations, industry and commerce, and design and consumption. This report is one of many publications in the project and makes visible the challenges that exist in the value chain, but also the great potential that is there.

Click here to read the full report (oda.oslomet.no)

Hvorfor går klær ut av bruk? Avhending sett i forhold til kvinners klesvaner

Ingun Grimstad Klepp

Sammendrag

Denne rapporten handler om hvorfor kvinner slutter å bruke klær og ønsker å kvitte seg med dem. Årsakene til avhending diskuteres i forhold til kvinnenes klesvaner. Klesvaner er både hvordan vi kler oss, og hva vi tenker om dette. Spørsmålet stilles med bakgrunn i et ønske om et mer bærekraftig tekstilforbruk. Tekstiler er forurensende både i produksjon, transport og som søppel. I 1998 kastet vi i Norge til sammen 110 000 tonn tekstiler. Av dette kom 75% fra husholdningene. Hver og en av oss kastet gjennomsnittlig 19,7 kg tekstiler dette året, av dette var ca 11,2 kg klær. I følge Statistisk sentralbyrå blir bare 7% av tekstilene gjenbrukt eller resirkulert.

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