Closed Loop Fashion, in collaboration with partners, had the honor of presenting our groundbreaking project results at AidEx – The Global Humanitarian Aid Event, in Geneva, Switzerland on the 26th of October 2023. AidEx stands as the premier global humanitarian aid conference, bringing together professionals from NGOs, government, and the private sector. The event centers on fostering collaboration and innovation in crisis response, sustainable development, and humanitarian aid.
Our project, titled “Circular Economy for Humanitarian Aid Products: A Sustainable Transition for Manufacturing and Packaging of Disaster Relief Blankets in Pakistan,” was recognized with the Sustainable Initiative of the Year 2023 Award by Development2030. This award acknowledges the collaborative efforts with our key partners, H. Nizam Din & Sons Private Limited and Alpinter SA.
The project emerged from the recognition of interconnected issues. Firstly, there is an escalating need for humanitarian shelter, resulting in a surge in demand for aid products. Unfortunately, these products are currently not designed and manufactured sustainably, contributing to high greenhouse gas emissions and putting stress on our climate. Moreover, the textile sector lacks adequate circular business measures, exacerbating the environmental impact.
The case study presentation, led by Jenny Puts, Sustainability & Circularity Impact Consultant of Closed Loop Fashion, alongside Ali Ahmad, Director at H. Nizam Din & Sons (Private) Ltd, Marina Chahboune, Founder and Sustainability Expert of Closed Loop Fashion, and Nicholas McLean, Business Development Manager of Alpinter, showcased the innovative approach and notable results of the project. The 2-year long Public-Private-Partnership project was established to collaboratively build new infrastructure and facilities aimed at minimizing the environmental footprint through the adoption of circular systems, recycling post-industrial textile waste, and producing blankets entirely made of recycled materials.
The second phase involved a Life-Cycle-Assessment using Eco Chain’s software – a thorough method to calculate the environmental impacts of a product throughout its entire life cycle. In this case, the LCA played a crucial role in identifying the critical intervention points to reduce the environmental impacts of the high thermal blankets. The scope is from cradle to gate; from raw material extraction to transport and distribution (until the port of Karachi). With a focus on “Climate Change” expressed in kg CO2 equivalent (CO2-e) By collecting primary data from all suppliers , the LCA provided valuable insights into environmental hotspots, enabling informed decision-making for sustainable solutions to be implemented to produce alternative blankets.
Key Findings and Interventions
The LCA revealed that raw materials (fiber and yarn production) accounted for the largest impact of the total product carbon footprint (68%), with packaging as the second-highest contributor (23%). Consequently, the project team undertook strategic interventions at these stages to reduce the environmental impact.
To address the high carbon footprint associated with raw materials, the team redesigned the blanket by replacing virgin materials with recycled materials. Pilots and tests were performed to maximize the amount of recycled fibers from the blanket waste into the product. For the high thermal insulation 50% recycled blanket waste from the production facilities and 50% recycled polyester fiber, certified by the Global Recycled Standard (GRS) was achieved. Next to that, the knitting yarn is replaced with 100% GRS certified recycled polyester yarn. This significantly reduced the environmental impact by 66%. Further reduction potentials can be achieved by increasing fiber-to-fiber recycling.
The second environmental hotspot, packaging, was addressed by applying circularity principles from the waste hierarchy (prevent, reduce, reuse, recycle, recover). Single-use plastics were eliminated, recycled materials were utilized, and the overall packaging was simplified while adhering to industry standards. These interventions successfully reduced the environmental impact of packaging by 45%.
With these strategic interventions, the alternative blankets demonstrated a substantial reduction of the total product carbon footprint—57% lower than conventional blankets. This collaborative project showcases the potential for innovative solutions, collaboration, and a circular approach to drive sustainable practices in the textile industry. For each individual blanket, the total potential reduction per blanket is 6,5 kg CO2-e. If we quantify that to the production of 1 million high thermal blankets, it means that the reduction equates to the carbon footprint of driving around the globe 515 times with a car. The results underscore a real impactful reduction potential that aims to establish new industry standards to reduce the environmental impact of disaster relief blanket production and distribution.
In addition, the project went a step further by initiating an upcycling program in response to the floods in refugee camps in Pakistan. University students from the Textile Institute of Pakistan (TIP) collaborated to repurpose large cut pieces and rejected blankets into innovative upcycled products. These included baby baskets and warm vests, addressing the specific needs of people in the camps.
The project’s case study presentation drew a diverse audience, including industry leaders, humanitarian aid organizations, UNHCR, other manufacturers, and consultants. The audience was highly engaged and responded positively to our presentation. During the discussion, a significant topic arose when participants raised concerns about stocked aid products (stock not yet shipped or used) and the challenges posed when product specifications change. For instance, when UNHCR shifts from virgin polyester to recycled polyester, the existing stock becomes waste and unusable. This highlights the industry’s volatility and how seemingly progressive steps can inadvertently intensify environmental pressure.
Another intriguing aspect that the audience was eager to learn more about centered around future plans and how our project aims to further maximize reduction. Our goal is to increase the recycled content for the high thermal insulation, having already achieved the maximum of 55%. Ongoing tests involve converting blanket waste into “popcorn” and using varying percentages from fiber-to-fiber recycling (5-15 %) in the filament, while still adhering to industry standard. In the near future, we intend to broaden our focus beyond blankets to include other aid products such as humanitarian relief tents.
Closed Loop Fashion and our partners express gratitude for the positive feedback and discussions during our case study presentation, underscoring our commitment to collective action in reducing environmental impact within the supply chain. Join us at the DIHAD Conference & Exhibition in Dubai in April 2024. We’ll be sharing the final results of our project. Save the date: April 23rd to 25th, 2024.
If our project has sparked your interest, we’d love to hear from you! Reach out to us to explore collaboration opportunities and learn more.