8 lessons learned from the Green Deal Circular Procurement
Sustainable is not necessarily circular. Textiles are only truly circular when the material loop is closed, in other words products, or the materials they’re made of, are reused after the end of their useful life. This requires logistical and technical solutions. Circularity is a way to pursue sustainability, as it focuses on maintaining the value of fibres and materials as much as possible. Organic and Fairtrade cotton, for example, is a sustainable choice, but its impact (paying fair prices, organic agriculture) has no direct link with circular goals. It’s therefore also important to clarify which definitions you use for circular textiles.
Design. The possibilities of reusing or recycling textiles depend significantly on the design. Examples include applying logos and striping, as well as maintenance and composition. The right design can also extend the lifespan of clothes by ensuring that clothes can be easily repaired.
Choice of fibre. Specify biobased or recycled textiles in your contract documents. Here, the performance desired of the textile takes precedence (safety, comfort, lifespan, quality, cost, wear and tear from industrial maintenance, etc.). It’s therefore important to assess the impact of the quality of the recycled or new fibre on the lifespan. The intensity of maintenance, quality and resistance to washing are important factors to consider, as these determine the lifespan of the products and have an impact on the additional costs during the lifespan (TCO).
Maintenance and repairability. Proper maintenance and repair options can significantly extend the lifespan of a product in your organisation. Include clauses that guarantee a longer lifespan, such as minimum number of washes, quality, optimal washing processes or repairs. Care4Safe and Care4Quality can help in this respect.
Purchase price vs. TCO. A TCO analysis allows different options to be compared according to the costs over the entire useful life of a product. This will probably give a different result to when only the price is compared. For example, the calculation includes maintenance processes (incl. energy and water consumption, use of detergents, etc.), and takes into account extension of the useful life being due to repairs. An as-a-service model can also be included in the comparison. These types of contract are already often offered in collaboration with laundries.
What happens at the end of use? Check whether the products or parts are recyclable at the end of their lives, to maximise efforts to reuse the materials. Correct recycling requires insight in the technical composition of the products, which can be obtained from a technical data sheet or a materials passport, among other things. Ask providers to take back their products at the end of use. Transparency about the following process in the loop is also important to ensure circularity. Another option is to work with specialist external partners for reuse or recycling. Clothing is often reworked into insulation material, but this is actually downcycling, so high-quality reuse would be better.
Dialogue with the market. There are already lots of small-scale trials with circular textiles. The market is evolving rapidly, so it’s important to talk with the suppliers in the chain about existing or potential solutions. You can issue a Request for Information (RFI), for example, to form an initial idea of what’s possible on the market. This also helps you avoid unrealistic or contradictory criteria.
Allow space for innovation. You can allow your providers room to innovate by carefully selecting the procedure and length of your contract, and including open, functional descriptions in the specifications.