Circular Textiles Economy = Zero Waste Is it Possible?

 


Think Outside the Trash – Recycle


Article published in Huffington Post on October 7, 2016 states that in 2013 alone, Americans discarded 15.1 million tons of clothing and other textiles, and 85 percent of that wound up in landfills.

That’s a bad thing, and not just because your old clothes could have been reused or recycled rather than being stuck in the ground. And not just because there are better uses for the land that landfills occupy ― or because transporting textile waste to landfills is so costly.

You see, all those baggy trousers and stained shirts in landfills don’t just lie there forever. They decompose. As they do, they release landfill gas, a toxic brew of air pollutants that includes the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane.

ON POWELL/NATURE/ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY: Map showing the locations of landfills in the contiguous 48 states. Each blue dot represents a landfill. The dot’s size corresponds to the amount of waste the landfill accepted in 2013.

There are about 1,200 municipal solid waste landfills in the United States, Jon Powell, a doctoral student in chemical and environmental engineering at Yale University and an expert on landfills informs. About 900 of these have vacuum systems that collect landfill gas for burning or to produce electricity.

But a lot of landfill gas is simply vented into the atmosphere. In fact, landfills are the third-largest source of methane emissions in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Methane is known to be 28 times more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat, Powell said. That means it poses a huge global warming problem.

What’s the solution?  Reuse, recycle and never trash your clothes.

What’s the permanent solution? –  Circular Textiles Economy.

Fashion is a vibrant industry that employs hundreds of millions, generates significant revenues, and touches almost everyone, everywhere. Since the 20th century, clothing has increasingly been considered as disposable, and the industry has become highly globalized, with garments often designed in one country, manufactured in another and sold worldwide at an ever-increasing pace. This trend has been further accentuated over the past 15 years by rising demand from a growing middle class across the globe with higher disposable income, and the emergence of the ‘fast fashion’ phenomenon, leading to a doubling in production over the same period.

The time has come to transition to a textile system that delivers better economic, societal, and environmental outcomes. The report A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future outlines a vision and sets out ambitions and actions – based on the principles of a circular economy – to design out negative impacts and capture a USD 500 billion economic opportunity by truly transforming the way clothes are designed, sold, and used.

The current textiles system has major drawbacks

Currently, steady production growth is intrinsically linked to a decline in utilization per item, leading to an incredible amount of waste. It is estimated that more than half of fast fashion production is disposed of in under a year, and one garbage truck full of textiles is landfilled or burnt every second. This factor combined with a very low rate of recycling – less than 1% of material used – leads to an ever-expanding pressure on resources. This ‘take-make-dispose’ system is not only extremely wasteful, but also very polluting. The use of substances of concern in textile production has an important impact on farmers’ and factory workers’ health as well as on the surrounding environment. During use, it has been recently estimated that, half a million tons of plastic microfibers shed during washing ends up in the ocean and ultimately enters the food chain. In other words, we may end up eating our own clothes. If nothing is done, these severe weaknesses are expected to grow exponentially with dramatic environmental, societal, and economic consequences, ultimately putting industry profitability at risk.

Negative impacts of the textiles industry are set to drastically increase by 2050

Negative Impacts

A new textiles economy would lead to better outcomes

Beyond laudable ongoing efforts, a new system for the textiles economy is needed and this report proposes a vision aligned with circular economy principles. In such a model, clothes, fabric, and fibers re-enter the economy after use and never end up as waste. This vision relies on four ambitions that would lead to better economic, environmental, and social outcomes, capturing opportunities missed by the current linear textiles system.

  • Phase out substances of concern and microfiber release, by aligning industry efforts and coordinate innovation to create safe material cycles.
  • Transform the way clothes are designed, sold and used to break free from their increasingly disposable nature, by scaling up closing rental schemes; making durability more attractive; and increasing clothing utilization through brand commitments and policy.
  • Radically improve recycling by transforming clothing design, collection and reprocessing; pursuing innovation to improve the economics and quality of recycling; stimulating demand for recycling materials; and implementing clothing collection at scale.
  • Make effective use of resources and move to renewable inputs.

Creating a new textiles economy

Ambitioins New Textile Economy

So is Circular Textiles Economy possible? I think: YES

A new level of collaboration is required

Efforts are already being employed by brands, retailers, and other organizations to change the industry and although promising progress is being made, it is often too fragmented or only effective at small scale. That is why achieving a new textiles economy will demand unprecedented levels of alignment on the case for change, and collaboration. A system-level change approach is required, including rallying key industry players to set ambitious joint commitments, kick-start cross-value chain demonstrator projects, and orchestrate complementary initiatives.

Resources:

See study done by Ellen Macarthur Foundation here: A NEW TEXTILES ECONOMY: REDESIGNING FASHION’S FUTURE 

https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/programmes/systemic-initiatives/make-fashion-circular/report

Maun Image: www.metabolic.nl

 

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