Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 20 credits / 30 HE credits
With an increasing human population in the world, textiles are part of current unsustainable consumption patterns. Unlike most other mass produced products available today however, textiles are often vital to satisfy human core needs, and cannot be considered superfluous. Textile materials can be problematic from an environmental perspective. Synthetics are made from non-renewable petroleum, while production natural textile materials are very resource intensive, and rely on non-renewable energy supplies.
Many reports on textiles indicate that production and use have great environmental impacts compared to waste management. On the other hand, it is in the latter phase decided whether the textile should be reused, recycled or discarded. These different material flow alternatives greatly determine overall impacts, since the possibility of avoided production through reuse and recycling is an important factor to consider.
The main goal of this report was, through the use of life cycle assessment (LCA), to evaluate the environmental impact of household textile waste management from reuse and disposal alternatives, when conducted through the activities of the Swedish waste management company SÖRAB. Two different waste management strategies/scenarios where compared: one centered around incineration of textile waste, specified as the incineration scenario, and one focused on a textile waste flow where the textiles are separated from household waste and sorted for reuse, recycling and incineration, specified as the reuse scenario. Due to the potential effects of displaced production through reuse and recycling, it was deemed important to additionally include the textile production phase besides the waste management phase in the LCA. Since the use of the textiles was considered outside of the sphere of influence of SÖRAB, this phase was excluded from the report.
Results indicate that the reuse scenario is, in all impact categories investigated, preferable to the incineration scenario. The reason for this is the displaced production in the reuse scenario thanks to the fact that textiles sorted as reuse in the waste management phase are assumed to replace virgin textiles in the use phase. Since the production phase contributes with the vast majority of the environmental impacts, avoided production affects results greatly, by lowering total impacts. For a company like SÖRAB, the easiest way currently to contribute to lowering environmental impacts would be to inform and in different ways encourage households to increase sorting of textiles for reuse, instead of it being thrown in the household waste.