New article shows how much the best practice garment use and care can reduce the environmental impacts

Diagram shows environmental impacts of various garment use scenarios

Article published in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment demonstrates that increasing the lifespan of a garment by wearing it longer had the largest effect for decreasing the environmental impacts.

A cradle-to-grave life cycle assessment (LCA) was used to compare six plausible best and worst-case practice scenarios for use and care of a wool sweater, relative to current practices. These focussed on options available to consumers to reduce impacts, including reduced washing frequency (S1), use of more efficient washing machines (S2), reduced use of machine clothing dryers (S3), garment reuse by multiple users (S5), and increasing number of garment wears before disposal (S4). A sixth scenario combined all options (S6).

Washing less frequently (S1) reduced impacts by between 4 and 20%, while using more efficient washing machines (S2) at capacity reduced impacts by 1 to 6%, depending on the impact category. Reduced use of machine dryer (S3) reduced impacts by < 5% across all indicators. Reusing garments by multiple users (S5) increased life span and reduced impacts by 25–28% across all indicators. Increasing wears from 109 to 400 per garment lifespan (S4) had the largest effect, decreasing impacts by 60% to 68% depending on the impact category. Best practice care (S6), where garment use was maximised and care practices focussed on the minimum practical requirements, resulted in a ~ 75% reduction in impacts across all indicators. Unsurprisingly, worst-case scenarios increased impacts dramatically: using the garment once before disposal increased GHG impacts over 100 times.

This shows that opportunities exist for consumers to rapidly and dramatically reduce these impacts. The fashion industry can facilitate this through garment design and marketing that promotes and enables long wear life and minimal care.

Reference: Wiedemann, S.G., Biggs, L., Nguyen, Q.V., Clarke, S.J., Laitala, K., 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. DOI: 10.1007/s11367-021-01909-x

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