Posted: November 8th, 2023
Clothing Waste Management in the UAE: Extended Producer Responsibility
Clothing Waste Management in the UAE: Extended Producer Responsibility
The global fashion industry is accountable for a significant percentage of the total carbon emissions and waste. Nearly 12 million tons of clothing are estimated to be left in landfills annually. Therefore, promoting sustainable fashion and recycling clothing waste in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) can help reduce the amount of clothing ending up in landfills. UAE’s population growth is rapidly increasing, with the country reaching 9.5 people in 2023. Despite being a nation that acknowledges the importance of sustainability in all its economic sectors, little has been done to ensure the country’s effective collection, treatment, and reuse of textiles. Recycling remains a relatively new and under-explored concept in the country’s fashion industry. UAE needs solid and immediate solutions to its clothing waste management problem lest it risks succumbing to the environmental adversities of the fast fashion industry. This research proposal aims to explore the feasibility of implementing extended producer responsibility in clothing waste management in the UAE. With a growing population and increasing household disposable income to spend on fashion, UAE is transforming into a viable market for producing products from recycled textiles, and extended producer responsibility can help guarantee the success of textile recycling.
Hasse (2021) performed a policy assessment to highlight how the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) has been applied in the Danish textile industry. The assessment looks at textile producers’ performance since the concept’s implementation in 2007. According to the policy review, EPR has played an essential role in establishing a circular economy for clothing waste. The country’s recycling scheme functions as a waste management strategy and a revenue generator for textile producers (Hasse, 2021). The findings of the policy review outline the importance of shifting the responsibility of recycling textiles back to the producers. The approach forces the business entities to brainstorm ways to financially benefit from the waste, thus facilitating local revenue generation. The article establishes that EPR implementation should focus on being circular and not linear.
Patnaik and Tshifularo expand on Christiansen et al.’s (2021) assessment of EPR. The authors conduct a secondary review of EPR practices by various fashion brands in the global textile industry. The review implies that the concept of EPR is not a policy-mediated practice in the fast fashion industry. Many multinational fashion brands have adopted the practice in pursuit of their green goals and objectives (Patnaik & Tshifularo, 2021). The review of industry practice highlights that EPR is well suited to enhance the value of the textile value chain. Moreover, the practice is applied to expand the brands’ product portfolios. The finding mirrors Hasse (2021), who also found that EPR is more about driving circular change in the fashion industry as opposed to achieving sustainability in textile waste management.
Jacometti (2019) asserts that EPR is a concept positioned at the intersection between sustainability and the circular economy. The author performs a secondary literature review of the European Union’s legal framework for enforcing producer responsibility in textile waste management. The research finds that the legal framework focuses on creating avenues for producers to integrate pre-consumer waste (raw materials, processing waste) and post-consumer waste (textiles) into the textile value chain (Jacometti, 2019). The legal framework does not emphasize producer responsibility by establishing waste management targets. Instead, there is the use of economic instruments, such as tax policies, to incentivize producers to recycle and reuse textile waste. As a result, EPR is a government-promoted initiative that aims at changing the concept of waste in fast fashion. The approach makes waste be perceived as a critical resource, an input in the manufacturing of other textile products by fast fashion manufacturers.
Hertinayo (2022) performs a metadata analysis of research studies on the concept of EPR, including white policy papers, to identify what is missing from existing waste management policies. The author hypothesizes that while sustainability is not a new concept in the fast fashion industry, EPR is relatively new. The concept is still in its infancy stage of implementation, implying potential policy gaps. According to the article, one of the main impediments to EPR enforcement is the inability to enforce standardized recycling and reuse practices (Hertinayo, 2022). Each fashion brand has its unique supply chain, and each textile landfill presents its distinct challenges concerning the collection, transportation, and processing of textile waste. Moreover, EPR fees, fines, and taxes are low, which could discourage manufacturers from fully implementing the process (Hertinayo, 2022). The article highlights the need for further government incentives to encourage manufacturers to embrace responsibility for their waste.
Kent (2023) presents a qualitative review of stranger sentiment to highlight that the uptake of EPR in fast fashion is due to changing consumer behaviours and preferences. The modern consumer is more aware of their contributions to environmental pollution and will therefore not associate themselves with brands not known for their green efforts. However, an even stronger sentiment is shared among locals living near garment factories and textile landfills. Such communities believe it should be a political mandate for textile companies to implement EPR (Kent, 2023). Non-profits are increasingly lobbying that EPR policies become globally enforced for a more meaningful reduction of textile waste.
Xie et al. (2021) conducted a systematic literature review of articles on reused and recycled clothing to assess whether there are viable markets for EPR-based products. The authors include over 100 articles from Google Scholar and Web of Science in their review to find that there is a ready market for such products, especially in emerging economies. EPR results in products and clothes that are not perceived as second-hand (Xie et al., 2021). The clothes are also not perceived as high-quality or first-hand. The finding suggests that EPR-processed textiles have more monetary value than second-hand clothes. Therefore, they could fetch prices that impact a garment manufacturer’s bottom line. Xie et al. (2021) contribute with a consumer’s perspective on the feasibility of EPR as a distinct economic segment within the larger fast fashion industry.
Siddiqua et al. (2022) carried out a quantitative survey of UAE consumers to highlight their disposal practices. The longitudinal observation highlighted that there is a lack of consumer awareness of recycling practices associated with the circular economy. Age and occupation were factors identified to influence recycling and disposal practice in UAE homes (Siddiqua et al. 2022). Older respondents had little awareness regarding the practice, and did not have knowledge on government initiatives associated with waste disposal. As a result, they did not participate in the disposal activities. The article highlights the need for targeted promotional exercises by the government of textile waste disposal. The awareness campaigns should seek to establish a recycling culture in the UAE as the success of the EPR process is dependent on the efficiency of waste collection and sorting.
This report aims to carry out detailed research on the concept of EPR and its application in the UAE’s textile industry. The review facilitates the identification or development of an effective framework for clothing waste management that is suitable for the Arab country. The following objectives will be covered in the report:
The proposed research will adopt a mixed research methodology, meaning there is the collection and analysis of quantitative and qualitative data. Both techniques are meant to provide the research with a comprehensive understanding of industry practices, including the performance of UAE-based garment factories when it comes to recycling and resident sentiments and behaviours behind textile landfills. A descriptive research design will be used to assess the performance of local companies with respect to the performance of other EPR plants across the world. According to Ranganathan (2019), descriptive research designs are used in studies where variables are not manipulated. Therefore, it is well suited for this research since it centers on observations. The goal is to answer the characteristics and trends in the UAE textile industry. A survey method will be used for the quantitative aspect, with participants required to fill in surveys or questionnaires. The surveys will include polls or other forms of weighted surveys to ensure clarity of sentiments.
When it comes to the qualitative aspect of the mixed research, the study will employ a process of observation research approach. The approach is applied when a study seeks to examine human experiences regarding an event (Ali-Alhamzi & Kaufmann, 2022). Since the research seeks to assess the state of EPR practice in the UAE, it must include insight from people working within the textile industry, specifically in waste management. The participants will be requested to describe their experiences with the EPR concept. The goal is to capture the participant’s perceptions of the process. The approach will require the researcher to spend significant time with the research participants to gain a notion of their perceptions, which will be applied in the data analysis process. The goal is to allow the researcher and participants to familiarize themselves with each other to facilitate the uncovering of meanings.
A descriptive survey tool, specifically an online questionnaire, will be employed for the data collection process. The instrument will be randomly distributed to research participants. Important to note is that there will be no limitations on the sample size since an invitation to participate in the research will be sent to all identified individuals working in EPR-related fields in the textile supply chain. Participant selection will be based on acceptance of the invite and not randomized selection. Acceptance will be validated through the collection of informed consent from the participants. The questionnaire will be used to generate information on recycling practices in UAE garment factories. The instrument will also help answer the general behaviours of individuals in the country when it comes to clothing disposal. A specific time window will be set to provide the participants with sufficient space to reason and provide informative responses. Sample inquiries included in the questionnaire are:
The research will identify particular consumers in the textile industry to elucidate information on their experiences with sustainability and recycling in the country. Audio-visual technology will be applied to conduct virtual interviews with these clients. The questions used in the interview are meant to provide data to show any correlations with the information from the other participants. The data collection process will prioritize information on human behaviours, including the types and the number of times they dispose of clothes and methods applied for disposal. The data collection process will also prioritize industry practices, such as methods used for textile waste management and revenue margins from recycled materials. The correlation of the two data sets will highlight the distance between UAE’s clothes disposal culture and industry practice.
A thematic approach will be applied to the qualitative aspect of the research. Thematic coding is applied to identify common themes, values, or ideas in research. Therefore, the approach will help the research generate insight from the consumer interviews, highlighting what needs to be done in the fashion industry and society to improve clothes disposal. A tabular categorization of frequent ideas and terms from the interviews will be done using computer software. Words that convey the same notion will be grouped into blocks. The amalgamation of ideas is meant to move the research from descriptive to categorical. Codes will be assigned to the different blocks to facilitate thematic analysis. The themes that come up the most represent the outcome of the analysis. Discussions will have to be held with an instructor or secondary researcher to ensure there is no bias in the identified themes.
Since the questionnaire includes questions with weighted scores, descriptive statistics will be applied as the data analysis method. The average mean score will be determined to highlight people’s perception of EPR practices in the UAE’s fast fashion industry. The mode will highlight the most popular sentiment among the research participant. On the other hand, the standard deviation will highlight the dispersion of sentiments. Correlation analysis of the survey data will highlight workers’ understanding of EPR practices in garment companies, highlight whether the practice is yielding significant profits for continued implementation. The correlation analysis will also highlight whether the implementation of EPR is resulting in consumer behaviour changes when it comes to clothing disposal. Correlation is meant to identify any relationships the research should consider when proposing changes to the current EPR practices in the UAE.
The UAE is underperforming in its collection, sorting, and recycling of disposed of clothes. The research will indicate that UAE-based households are struggling with ‘mountains’ of old clothes within or around their homes. Clarke (2019) reports that the sheer volume of clothes deposited in one of the recycling plants was 4000 tonnes in one year. The company is unable to process all these clothes resulting in the incoming materials superseding the outgoing products. Fast fashion is a booming business in the country, which implies a further supply problem for garment manufacturers and UAE households. There is a need to raise awareness of good recycling practices among UAE homes. On the other hand, a significant part of the underperformance can be linked to the country’s lack of sufficient recycling capacity. There might not be enough recycling plants to cover the amount of clothing disposed of annually. Hasse (2021) cited under-capacity as one of the challenges affecting the Danish textile industry. The same problem is impeding the efficiency of UAE’s EPR efforts.
The UAE consumer culture is not set up to facilitate the consumption of second-hand textile products. Having a vibrant domestic market for products built from recycled textiles is critical in improving the capacity of the recycling plants. The UAE’s fast fashion industry does not have a ready market for EPR products, resulting in the country importing to third-world countries (Clarke, 2019). There is a growing need to raise awareness among the residents concerning the concept of used clothing. Such an approach is key to transforming consumer behaviour, which will impact sustainability in fast fashion. There is also a need to raise awareness of the ethical disposal of textiles to facilitate their collection at recycling plants. Consumer behaviour change is necessary to sustain the viability of EPR as an economic sector in the UAE.
There is a lack of sectorial collaboration in the UAE in recycling efforts. While the government does provide tax credits to companies that recycle, most garment manufacturers are undertaking recycling as an individual task for revenue generation. Recycling is being perceived more as a commercial idea than a social requirement (Hertinayo, 2022). However, the lack of collaboration could stem from the fact that each fashion brand in the country having its unique supply chain. There is little information about private organizations working together to set up recycling plants. There is also little information on non-government organizations working with authorities to improve the public disposal system. EPR relies on a robust public waste collection system to grow the sheer volume of recycled textiles.
The fashion industry needs to take up more responsibility in raising awareness of ethical textile disposal practices and the suitability of recycled products. With sustainable fashion becoming a more practiced concept in the UAE, the country has the opportunity to create a domestic market for recycled products. Targeted marketing by garment manufacturers on EPR products will go a long way in reinforcing the circular economy associated with recycling. According to Kent (2023), recycled clothes and textile products are more affordable, meaning they can meet the needs of a large section of the local population. The UAE government can implement awareness campaigns, leveraging local media and domestic celebrities to market the second-hand products. In another scenario, the government can introduce monetary policies that accommodate the exportation of EPR products more.
There is no going around the importance of interagency collaboration in addressing recycling challenges. With the right combination of human skill, education, expert collaboration, and investment, UAE can transform its EPR to meet international standards. The county has the ability to modernize its infrastructure to increase the daily output of recycled textiles. Local communities have to be engaged to promote cultural changes when it comes to disposal behaviour and the consumption of second-hand textile products. Under capacity is one of the primary reasons behind the inefficiency of UAE’s EPR. There are insufficient recycling plants to enforce producer responsibility. The government could make it a mandate that each garment manufacturer has an internal division for recycling. Such a policy requirement aligns with the current practice of commercializing recycling, as each garment manufacturer will integrate EPR into their supply chain.
Sustainability efforts are gaining a lot of traction in the UAE across different economic sectors. Entrepreneurs in the country benefit from numerous opportunities to contribute and advocate for sustainable practices in the fast fashion industry. Extended producer responsibility can facilitate the introduction of collection schemes, helping reduce the sheer volume of textile landfills. There should also be the harmonization of EPR regulations in the country to enhance the economic feasibility of the sustainable practice. EPR is not far away from turning textile waste into a circular economy in the UAE. Even though EPR can help fund the infrastructure and systems required to collect, sort, recycle, and manufacture textile products, inter-agency collaboration is imperative to ensure efficiency. EPR is a holistic approach that involves participation from numerous stakeholders. Targeted marketing is also required to improve the sales of second-hand textile materials.
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