Workwear and safety clothing

The workwear and safety clothing product group is very appropriate for circular procurement. The life cycle is comparatively short and the materials are (in the case of workwear) relatively easy to reuse. Moreover, the clothing industry is one of the most polluting industries worldwide: it is responsible for about 8% of total CO2 emissions. Circular procurement of clothing could significantly reduce the environmental impact. Extending the service life of clothing will generally lead to major environmental gains as well: cleaning and maintaining the clothing properly will make clothing last longer.

Different types of clothing

Within the clothing product group, we make a distinction between workwear and safety clothing. For workwear it is relatively simple to apply circular principle. You can, for instance, apply reused materials. For safety clothing this is more difficult, partly because of the strict technical requirements that reused materials have to meet. As a result, reuse of existing materials is not always possible. 

In addition, there is a difference between custom-made and standard products, and many of the smaller public organisations mainly purchase standard products. In case of custom-made clothing it is easier to influence the circularity of the design, but it might be harder to process at the end of the life cycle if the clothing has different specifications from what is normal market practice. In case of standard clothing, on the other hand, it is difficult to influence the design, but you can concentrate instead on the way that take-back and high-quality reuse is organised. After all, standard products exist in large volumes, which makes them easier to process.

Aspects of circular textiles

The first step in the circular procurement of textiles is to extend the current life cycle. If the purchase of new textiles is unavoidable there are various ways to achieve circularity. To determine the circular characteristics of textiles Rijkswaterstaat has defined the following three characteristics:

  • It can be recycled: design for recycling. Please note that for safety clothing this is often hard to achieve.
  • It is made from recycled textile materials: recycling in design. Bear in mind that a piece of clothing is fully circular only if the material can be taken back and recycled.
  • A recycling system and take-back logistics are in place, so recycling can actually take place.

Determine which aspects best fit your needs and try to validate this in a market consultation to make sure the market has the capacity to translate your ambitions into reality.

Also note that NEN, the Royal Netherlands Standardization Institute, is currently developing a new standard that will describe in more detail what is understood by circular textile.

Value chain cooperation in the clothing sector

For workwear, there are in fact two different value chains that often operate independently. One is the production chain of new clothing including the suppliers. The other is the value chain responsible for the extension of service life, such as repair and maintenance. At the end of the life cycle, clothing is still frequently discarded or fiberised without involving either of these two value chains. To follow a circular model for clothing therefore requires cooperation within and between these value chains.

Environmental impact of clothing

The production chain for clothing is comparatively polluting. The environmental impact can be made transparent by performing a life cycle analysis (LCA) of the clothing. Currently it is not common practice for this product group to include an LCA in a tender, unlike for instance, civil and hydraulic engineering. Include a request for an LCA in your procurement project but do not use this as an award criterion.

Working conditions in international value chains

Working conditions in the clothing chain are not always adequate. Due to a lack of transparency in the value chains, it is often difficult to determine the conditions under which the clothing is produced. A procurement project for clothing should therefore emphasize international social conditions and include value chain transparency.

Tips

  • In many cases, the clothing chain is currently not prepared for value chain cooperation. To improve this, you should incorporate value chain cooperation in your ambitions as a means of achieving your circular aspirations as far this is proportionate for your request.
  • The focus in value chain cooperation ought to be on cooperation between suppliers and maintenance partners, as well as on increased transparency of the international supply chain.
  • Help the sector to create transparency by asking your suppliers for information on the environmental impact, without making this a part of your award process.

Inspiring examples

Background information

Suggestions and/or additions?