With the circular economy so much in the news at the moment, we asked whether the care sector has fully considered its opportunities to extract value from, and reduce waste costs of, end-of-life textiles.

The 'circular economy' concept is one in which businesses organise to maintain products and materials at their highest value by keeping them in circulation after their first useable life. The concept can be applied to any product that is manufactured, used and disposed of - including textiles.

In the care sector, textiles tend to be discarded when they are no longer needed, and are commonly landfilled or incinerated. Our work at Oakdene Hollins has convinced us that this need not be the case; more organisations in this sector could divert textiles away from landfill or incineration, take steps to tackle the problems of textile waste - including designing for reuse – and thereby reduce disposal costs and recover useful value.

Textiles are used throughout the care sector: for staff uniforms, patient gowns and clothing, bedding, mattresses, towels, soft furnishings, curtains and so on. Care sector textiles present particular disposal problems; understanding and overcoming these problems is key. Concerns around infection control, security (logos/branding), product variety, fibre/fabric choice, and product design and construction all contribute to the difficulties in finding appropriate solutions.

In making textiles more ‘circular’, taking multiple actions across the whole textile life is a must. Consumption and disposal of a variety of textile items, as well as laundering them during their useable life, requires the use of vast quantities of raw materials and consumables going to effluent and landfill. We have demonstrated that value in these textiles needn’t be lost, but can be captured through reuse, recycling or other ‘circular’ methods to extract value from an overlooked asset.

Details of quantities and types of textiles consumed and disposed are hard to come by, but we do know that staff clothing (for example) is a complex yet high value stream – and a large opportunity. At Oakdene Hollins, we advise and assist organisations and their suppliers to reduce waste and recover value from no longer needed textiles, through innovative projects. This includes recycling, conversion to liquid fuel, reuse and ‘upcycling’ as well as apparel design to maximise reuse.

If you are interested in finding out more, or would like to talk to us about our work in textiles and the circular economy, please email kate.riley@oakdenehollins.com