EPISODE 34: What's the difference between pre and post consumer waste?




Pre-consumer waste, Post-consumer waste, zero waste, fashion supply chain, circular design, design process, garment production, sustainability, recycling.



Welcome to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you need help navigating the fashion industry sustainably, you have come to the right place. I'm your host Belinda Humphrey and my hope is to simplify the fashion industry so that businesses can make the best decisions for people, planet and product.


Hello, and welcome to episode 34 of the Fashion Unearthed podcast. How's everyone doing out there? I feel like there is so much going on. I haven't been on social media much. I feel like I just needed a bit of a break from it and the news cycle in general. But you can still find me here on the podcast and of course my monthly newsletter, which you can sign up to on the website belindahumphrey.com.


So in today's episode, I wanted to talk about the difference between pre and post consumer waste. Designing out waste is a key area of focus when you start talking about a circular economy or circular design and these are the two key stages.


Firstly, pre consumer is often used to describe any waste created before an item gets to a consumer. It could be fabric, excess inventory or faulty items. It's becoming more and more common within the production phase, for example, to use offcuts or leftover scraps for smaller items, but also in some cases, these scraps are collected by a third party to be processed and then respun into new yarn. Taking the off cuts at this stage can make the recycling process easier as they know exactly how it's blended and there's no need to dismantle a made garment to start the process. A lot of recycled cotton yarn is made for leftovers at this step. But generally, anything made from the waste before it gets to a consumer is called pre consumer waste.


Post consumer waste is waste coming after consumer has used the goods. You're likely to hear this term when a brand or person is up cycling using post consumer waste. Or often when it comes to packaging. Recycling post consumer waste can be more difficult, particularly with garments as they'll need to be deconstructed to get any trims out, as well as confirm the fibre composition so that similar fibres are processed together.


In both examples, it is diverting or saving something from landfill.


There's another term that people use when they're talking about waste, which is zero waste. It refers to everything being used. So within fashion, this might mean zero waste pattern, which means that there are no fabric offcuts. So the shape of the garment all fits together on the fabric edge to edge and there is no waste. Or if it's a zero waste garment, it might mean that larger pieces get made into other things or large scraps get made into other things like scrunchies, or masks and all the remaining off cuts go to another business or partner to be processed into a new yarn, effectively meaning there is no waste or nothing going to landfill.


Now if you've been listening for a while, you'll know that I'm really excited about the potential of circular design and circular economy and thinking about the waste in both of these stages and designing out or reducing it upfront in the design phase is a key principle of circular design. So this might look like the earlier example I gave of making sure that all of the leftover fabric is either used for small items or sent on to a third party to be recycled. But it might be as simple as using a two way print instead of a one way which will enable more options to fit the patent pieces together, reducing the amount of off cuts. It could also mean using leftover fabric or deadstock for smaller runs, rather than ordering more fabric. It's best to use your own deadstock or be able to trace where it's from though. And if you want a refresh on the background of deadstock and some of the things to look out for, I think it was episode nine that I go into that a bit more.


Well, that's it for today, It was just a little shorty to explain the terms and get you thinking about how you might be able to change your process to design out more waste. If you already consider waste within your design process, I'd love to hear about it and what approach you take, you can email me at info@belindahumphrey.com or direct message me on Instagram @belindahumphrey_ Finally, you'll find the show notes for today's episode on the website in the podcast section, and if you aren't on the newsletter list, you can sign up for that on the website too. Thanks so much for listening. See you next time.


Thanks for listening to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you want to get in touch head over to belindahumphrey.com or you can find me on Instagram @belindahumphrey_


Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change. 



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