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Is Circularity the Future of Sustainable Fashion?

The circular economy is a model that encourages businesses to reduce waste by increasing resource efficiency and keeping materials in use for longer. More than just a buzzword, circularity could have immense potential from a sustainable standpoint. Ahead, we take a look at just how…

Key Takeaways: What is the circular economy?

For as long as we can remember, businesses have primarily been based on a linear model where raw materials are extracted from the planet, turned into products and then tossed away when they are worn out. Aptly known as the ‘take-make-waste’ model, the linear economy has been responsible for a mountain of debris in landfills that are wreaking havoc on the environment. 

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the equivalent of 1 garbage truckload of clothes is burnt or buried in a landfill every second. Once in landfills, these clothes can take anywhere between a few weeks to 200+ years to decompose. As these fibres break down, they release harmful greenhouse gases like methane, which is a significant contributor to global warming. Toxic dyes and other chemicals from these clothes then leach into the soil, contaminating the earth and groundwater.

If effectively adopted, the circular economy has the potential to stop waste in its tracks and redirect worn-out materials back into the system. This can be achieved through products that are designed to become the raw materials of tomorrow. By keeping materials in circulation for as long as possible through products that can be easily recycled into raw materials for further production, we can take the stress away from our planet’s finite resources, redirect and reduce an enormous amount of waste.

A circular model goes deeper than just a noble thought — it ensures that the raw materials are renewable and are extracted in a sustainable manner. In fact, certifications like Cradle to Cradle® work closely with leading organisations worldwide to guide and validate their efforts in using materials and designing products that are manufactured in a thriving, circular economy to maximize health and well-being for people and the planet.

How can fashion play its part in circularity?

The Business of Fashion claims that despite the industry’s best efforts, as much as 12% of fibres are still discarded on the factory floor, 25% of garments remain unsold, and less than 1% of products are recycled into new garments. The only way the circular economy can gain momentum is dependent on these capabilities:

1. Designing out of waste with the end of life in mind 

In order for a product to be completely circular, it should be able to sustain life even after use. This can be achieved by creating durable products using recyclable or biodegradable materials, safe dyes and finishes, while also eliminating any factory waste at the outset.

2. Keeping products in use for longer

While circular fashion may entail designing products with their end of life in mind, one of the most overlooked parts involve keeping products in circulation or in use for as long as possible. By giving clothes a second chance through repair and rental services or secondhand resale platforms, their shelf life can be extended.

3. Careful disposal of products

Recycling facilities like Wearable Collections in New York City have been salvaging discarded clothing for over two decades and claim to repurpose 95% of their collections. Other ways of responsible disposal include seeking out local seamstresses who can upcycle your clothes into something wearable or functional. 

Published by: Vibhuti Vazirani/ 2021-12-23

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