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Engaging Consumers to Tackle the Fashion Industry’s Waste

Elizabeth Myers
May 29, 2024

Every year, 92 million tonnes of textile waste is produced, going to landfills or being burned. This not only poses a threat to soil health that waste sits upon, solid waste outside of food accounts for 5% of all GHG emissions. When it is decomposed, it produces methane which is 28x more potent than CO2. Furthermore, waste is most often sent to countries in the Global South who are inundated by the sheer mass of clothing imports, thus many of those clothes (up to 60%) go directly to landfills.

According to a 2022 McKinsey report, 85% of textile waste comes from consumers at the end-of-life, when they discard or donate their used clothing, highlighting a critical role in end-of-life management.

With increased awareness of fashion’s waste, legislators have implemented new regulations in France, and ones coming for all the EU, pushing brands and manufacturers to take responsibility for their products at the end-of-life and implement digital product passports. What are each and why are they important to tackling waste?

Legislative Directives:

  • Extended Producer Responsibility: In place in France and the Netherlands, and slated for EU wide adoption, producers, distributors, and importers must manage the end-of-life of the products marketed and sold in those countries, through collection, recycling and reuse, or financially supporting end-of-life organizations that help collection of textiles at the end-of-life.some text
    • How can EPR help reduce waste?

Municipalities are scaling up textile collection, sorting and recycling to allow for increased volume of textiles to be recycled, including funding towards new recycling innovations. This, in tandem with pushing producers and manufacturers to take responsibility for their products at the end-of-life, will significantly decrease the amount of textile products from going to landfills or incineration.

  • Digital Product Passport: regulated by the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) in the EU, the digital product passport, in addition to providing environmental information on products to consumers, a main component is to promote a more circular system where consumers have more information on their products for repairability, and recyclers have more information on the product to facilitate more effective recycling. Data on the product should be accessed by all stakeholders on a data carrier, like a QR code. some text
    • How can the DPP help reduce waste?

By giving consumers more information on care, product durability, and repairs, the DPP guides them in taking better care to make products last longer. Furthermore, by having complete information on the product and encouraging sustainable design for ease of recycling, this helps recyclers more effectively recycle clothing, increasing recycling rates.

Integrating new services, such as repair and innovative recycling technologies, to push towards a more circular business is essential. However, the effectiveness of these government and company initiatives relies heavily on consumers actively engaging and having an ease of access to them. Given that the majority of textile waste is coming directly from consumers, we need to engage consumers to repair and take better care of their clothing, while discouraging them from throwing things away or sending it to unverified donations spots. To successfully manage products at the end of their lifecycle, brands must establish meaningful connections and relationships with their customers. This entails not only providing convenient access to repair and recycling services, but also fostering a culture of responsible consumption and mindful disposal. Encouraging consumers to extend the lifespan of their clothing through repair and proper care practices not only reduces waste but also cultivates a sense of ownership and stewardship over their products.

At MĀDI, that is our mission: to help brands connect with their customers to reduce waste, through encouraging them to keep their products longer and take better care of them with more comprehensive care instructions and access to repair, or if they must get rid of it, make it easy for them to send products to proper and verified recycling or reuse locations. Through a unique digital ID linked to a QR code or NFC chip sewn onto each garment, consumers can access all of this information and accessibility at the quick tap of their finger.

The R’s and MĀDI

A circular fashion system has five main principles to enable sustainable actions and reducing textile waste, known as the five ‘R’s,’ reduce, repair, rewear, resell, and recycle. These five concepts are at the core of MĀDI’s mission in reducing textile waste. Here is how we work towards each:

  • Rewear: Through providing more comprehensive care information, beyond just how to wash, but the various ways a consumer may need help caring for their garment, like information on removing stains and more, we aim to encourage consumers to feel more connected to their garments enabling them to keep those garments in their closets longer and continuing rewearing them.
  • Repair: Accessibility to services to prolong the life of garments is a key part of MĀDI’s digital IDs. Through our partners, consumers can quickly access repair services which they can send into a tailor or have the tailor come to their home based on their location. If we do not have a partner in a consumer’s country, we have a map to find a tailor close to them vetted by our team and partners. We are continuing to expand this list of tailors and repair partner services.
  • Resell: Our digital IDs seamlessly connect consumers to resell platforms, facilitating ease of reseal. Alternatively, if your brand has its own resale business, we can directly connect consumers back to your services and aid the scale up of those resell businesses.
  • Reduce: In providing increased accessibility and more comprehensive care information for a product, we strive to empower consumers to be stewards of the products, ultimately reducing the urge to make more frequent purchases. We advocate for a shift towards buying fewer higher-quality, longer-lasting products, rather than unsustainable, low-quality products that quickly wear out.
  • Recycle: It is estimated that only 1% of clothing is recycled. Even if they reach a recycler, they may not actually get recycled due to a lack of product information, certain chemicals used in production, or the wearing out of the garment. Recyclers struggle to scale up their business as they need more volume. Our digital IDs link consumers to the right textile sorter or recycler in their region, based on the type of product material and more. When the product reaches a recycler, they will have all the information about the product needed to enable effective recycling. MĀDI takes away the barrier for both consumers to send products to verified sorters and recyclers, as well as the barrier for recyclers to actually recycle products.
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