Reverse supply chains for textile reuse and recycling of the future

Kirjoitettu: 27.4.2023

Textiles and especially clothing are an inseparable part of our everyday life. Today we consume much more than we used to do. Between 2000 and 2015 global textile consumption doubled and is expected to increase by 63% by the year 2030 (BCG and GFA, 2017). Approximately 11 kg of clothing per person is then discarded every year by an average European consumer which means a truckload of textiles is being landfilled or incinerated somewhere in the EU every other second (European Commission, 2022).

In the doctoral research project at Hanken School of Economics, we focused our attention on what happens to the used textiles after the disposal by end consumers. Such focus has been dictated by the ongoing change. By the year 2025, all the EU member states are obliged to establish separate collection of used textiles and ensure their reuse and recycling (Directive, 2018/ 851). Finland has stood out in this regard as a true forerunner in textile circularity and has been chosen as our case country. For example, in 2021, Finland has started a pilot of the textile refinement plant for creating recycled fibers from the used textiles collected by the waste management companies in the Finnish municipalities (LSJH, 2021). A full-scale textile recycling plant is planned for opening by the year 2025 (LSJH, 2023). To fulfill the legal obligations and fuel the textile recycling plant with the used textiles, new reverse supply chains will be needed. A reverse supply chain can be defined as a complex logistics system. It includes collecting used products from end consumers, sorting, and grouping them for further processing, and then finding suitable waste management strategy to recover value or complete responsible product disposal.

In our research, we paid special attention to the “untypical” actor of such reverse supply chains – the non-profit organizations (NPOs). Have you ever donated your clothes to NPOs such as UFF, Fida, or maybe Kontti? Not many would think of NPOs as the actor which is the largest collector of post-use textiles worldwide (Pal, 2017). NPOs collect used textiles for a charitable cause. The reusable pieces are sold at charity second-hand shops. The emphasis on this “untypical” actor was needed for two reasons. First, in recent years, Nordic NPOs have grown their textile export by 25%; textiles are exported to other European countries including Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia (Nørup et al., 2018). Unfortunately, some of the exported textiles end up in developing countries (Yle, 2020). In these countries, the second-hand clothing trade contributes to socioeconomic issues like poverty, inequality, and the degradation of local textile production (Brooks, 2015).

Lastly, the existing reverse supply chains of NPOs will experience the influence from the ongoing change and introduction of the separate collection of used textiles. The research project has been driven by the idea to explore how non-reusable textiles in the NPOs' collection could be recycled domestically. It would help in minimizing textile export by NPOs in Finland and increase domestic textile circularity. The study observed NPOs’ collection and sorting practices for textile reuse. Then, we studied the partnership attempts between NPOs and companies for valorizing textile that couldn’t be reused through the charity second-hand shops. Currently, the research continues with investigating the motivations and perceptions of the actors (waste management companies and NPOs) involved in the collection pilot in Finland.

So far two publications are available for those who would be interested in reading more about this topic:

  • Zhuravleva, A. & Aminoff, A. (2021). Emerging partnerships between nonprofit organizations and companies in reverse supply chains: enabling valorization of post-use textile. International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, 51(9), 978–998. DOI 10.1108/ IJPDLM-12-2020- 0410 (Open access)
  • Zhuravleva, A., Aminoff, A. & Grant, D. (2022). (Re)organizing supply chains for responsibility in Sandberg, M., & Tienari, J. (Eds.). (2022). Transformative Action for Sustainable Outcomes: Responsible Organising (1st ed.). Routledge. DOI 10.4324/9781003229728

To reach a wider audience, we recorded several podcast episodes on this topic. For example, we could suggest tuning into our discussion with one of the non-profit actors in the collection pilot (episode “Textile reuse and Recycling in Finland. What, when, how?” on Hanken podcast “Sustainability Unwrapped”).

Anna Zhuravleva
Hanken School of Economics

Kirjoittaja Anna Zhuravleva palkittiin huhtikuussa 2023 LOGYn kannusteapurahalla Hankenilla tekemästään väitöskirjatyöstä. Hänen väitöskirjansa nimi on "NPOs and Reverse Supply Chains for Textile Reuse and Recycling of the Future".