Case study on leftovers from garment manufacturing in Sri Lanka

16th May 2019

Reviewing the opportunities to make more efficient use of fabric leftovers from garment manufacturing, through remanufacturing and recycling. 

Key findings
14% of fabric became cutting scraps; 0.5% larger pieces of surplus fabric 0.5 to 10 yards in size; and 0.5% became roll ends
Larger offcuts and roll ends could be used to make additional internal sections for garments
Decrease in transparency of the end-destination of waste fabrics as factories and traders pass on the low value leftovers to the informal market

This case study reviews opportunities to make more efficient use of fabric leftovers from garment manufacturing, through remanufacturing and recycling. It is the result of a site visit in early 2018 to two factories operated by a major clothing manufacturer in Sri Lanka, in order to identify, trace, and analyse their production leftovers.

A sample of data from four factories, covering the production of 300,000 garments, showed that out of the fabrics reaching the cutting room, on average:

·         14% became cutting scraps;

·         0.5% became larger pieces of surplus fabric 0.5 to 10 yards in size; and

·         0.5% became roll ends.

The majority of fabric pieces and roll ends are not re-used, so this case study explores the potential for re-use, for instance by turning them into additional internal sections for garments. For example, fabric leftovers from a production run of 25,000 jean garments could generate enough garment pieces to replace the internal sections of 5000 pairs of jeans.

Better management of fabric leftovers could enable such remanufacturing. Likewise, better management of cutting scraps could enable recycling at higher value. However, the potential for savings is variable:

·         Designs with stripes and prints produce more waste and it can be difficult to find remanufacturing opportunities;

·         Lycra content and blended materials lower the value of leftovers for recycling.

There is a decrease in transparency of the end-destination of waste fabrics as factories and traders pass on the low value leftovers to the informal market. Better data on the quantities and types of waste fabrics would be needed to inform investment in recycling facilities.