The textile and garment industry is one of the key sectors of the consumer goods industry in Vietnam, contributing to an export surplus for the economy. It is also the largest industry in the country in terms of labor recruitment, accounting for 25% of the labor force in the manufacturing and processing industry, and 12.5% of the country's total labor force [MOIT, 2022]. However, this industry is also a significant contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as it consumes a considerable amount of energy, water, and chemicals, both during laundering and in shipping (Niinimäki et al., 2020; European Parliament, 2022). In addition, textile dyeing and finishing have been estimated to cause about 20% of industrial wastewater pollution (Morlet et al., 2017).
Given the increasing demand for supply chain transparency and sustainable development, Vietnamese textile and garment enterprises need to embrace the circular economy approach, particularly in light of the COP26 conference's focus on reducing GHG emissions and the textile industry's large foreign markets that have set goals for recycled products. Therefore, this study aims to reveal the current status of environmental management, production optimization, and the readiness of the textile and garment industry to transition to a circular economy.
To assess the level of application of circular economy solutions, a survey was conducted using a questionnaire developed according to the 9Rs framework (Recover, Recycle, Reuse for Other Purposes, Remanufacture, Refurbish, Repair, Reuse, Reduce Use, Share Resources, and Change Thinking) to evaluate the interviewed enterprises on a 5-point Likert scale. This study also explores the barriers to implementing and replicating circular economy models for textile and garment enterprises in the North and South of Vietnam.
Regarding environmental law enforcement, 100% of enterprises were consulted (n=15) to invest funds for the treatment of wastes (solid, liquid, gas) generated in accordance with the law. relevant law. 53% of businesses have activities to recycle waste generated as input materials for other production processes such as using rags and excess cotton to produce teddy bears, after treatment wastewater is circulated to irrigate plants in the environment. factory premises. About 35% of the interviewed enterprises invest funds to innovate and improve technology. Improvement activities include changing machinery and equipment to be more energy-efficient, investing in more innovative solutions to improve the efficiency of environmental treatment systems, and investing in production management software to improve the efficiency of environmental treatment systems. increase input efficiency and reduce output waste.
In assessing the readiness of enterprises to move towards an integrated and circular economy based on the 9R principle, it was found that all enterprises have started to adopt three criteria. Firstly, they are optimizing inputs by using recycled cotton, repurposing waste products from natural cotton, recycling fibers to make cotton wool for medical use, using reputable and safe chemicals for dyeing, and carefully managing their raw material inventory. Secondly, they are extending the product life cycle by implementing programs such as "Give new to old," where old cotton jackets are collected, renewed, and donated to disadvantaged communities. They are also using durable and long-lasting fabrics. Finally, they are restoring and regenerating natural ecosystems by investing in renewable energy sources, such as private rooftop solar systems, and building a circulating wastewater treatment system to conserve water and recycle 80% of it for production, thereby reducing the impact on the natural environment.
According to an interview with the Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association, the Vietnamese textile and garment industry has been quick to adopt the circular economy model. Since 2017, the industry has established a Committee for Sustainable Development on Environment and Labor, working with various organizations worldwide to implement this model. The association has also launched a PPP (Profit-People-Planet) model for sustainable development, where businesses must be profitable while ensuring job security, harmonious labor relationships, and minimizing waste by reusing water and recycling products. However, the Vice President and General Secretary of the association pointed out that the industry faces several difficulties in developing sustainably and implementing the circular economy model. These include:
- The dependence on imported raw materials and accessories, such as cotton, fiber, and fabric, making it challenging for enterprises to control quality, durability, and supply chain sustainability. Currently, the localization rate of the industry is only 30-35%.
- The lack of planning for development space, making it impossible to establish large textile industrial parks with centralized wastewater treatment systems. Although this issue has been included in the Strategy to develop the textile industry to 2030, with a vision to 2035, it has not been approved. Additionally, some localities have not recognized sustainable textile and dyeing projects, leading to reluctance in approving and licensing them.
- The garment industry faces significant pressure due to the high technical standards and fastidiousness of large export markets. This pressure is exacerbated as consumer trends shift towards circular fashion and sustainable fashion, away from fast fashion.
- The shortage of high-quality human resources, particularly for 4.0 technology application, weaving, dyeing, and fashion design.
- The significant capital required for green and circular transformation, which not all businesses have the means to meet.
The Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association's interview results align with those of businesses, as 100% of companies believe that the successful implementation of a circular economy model in the industry requires addressing policies, markets, and raising customer awareness and trust. Other factors, such as financial support, technology, and infrastructure, were also seen as essential by more than 90% of respondents. As a result of this study, several solutions and an action plan have been proposed for the Vietnamese textile and garment industry to adopt circular economy principles. These include expanding the domestic materials growing area and sourcing raw materials from various renewable and sustainable sources. Additionally, promoting cleaner production and building a sustainable network of industry enterprises and stakeholders is essential. Lastly, establishing an information database and utilizing modern technology to drive the circular economy is necessary. Textile and garment companies in Vietnam have started taking steps towards a more circular economy to comply with laws and meet market demands for circularity. To accomplish this transition fully, it is necessary to work with relevant stakeholders to address challenges and implement proposed solutions based on individual business requirements.
Circular economy, textile and garment industry, environmental management system, readiness
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Niinimäki, K., Peters, G., Dahlbo, H., Perry, P., Rissanen, T., and Gwilt, A. (2020) The environmental price of fast fashion. Nature Reviews Earth and Environ. 1 (4), 189–200. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s43017-020-0039-9 [Accessed 31th Jan 2023].
European Parliament. (2022). The impact of textile production and waste on the environment (infographic). Available from: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20201208STO93327/the-impact-of-textile-production-and-waste-on-the-environment-infographic [Accessed 31th Jan 2023].
Morlet, A., Opsomer, R., Herrmann, S., Balmond, L., Gillet, C., and Fuchs, L. (2017). A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future. Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Available from: https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/a-new-textiles-economy [Accessed 31th Jan 2023].