#CircularTuesday: Viewing the textile industry through a circular economy lens

Circular economy - cleanbuild

#CircularTuesday: Viewing the textile industry through a circular economy lens

Hello readers.

Welcome to #CircularTuesday on CleanbuildVoices!

Textiles are an essential part of our daily lives and society in a variety of ways from clothing, healthcare items, to fabrics we use for home decor.

Yet, the textile industry is responsible for billions of products that end up in warehouses and stores. Some are left in wardrobes or discarded and because some of these products are low-quality, they are difficult to recycle and therefore, find their way in landfills posing a severe risk to the environment.

In today’s edition of #CircularTuesday, we will consider some ways that players in the textile industry can incorporate the principles of circular economy in their business practices. Why should you even care?

A major impact of textile waste is the risk it poses to creatures in the ocean especially fish which ingest fabric and eventually end up on our plates in all their fabric and fish glory.

A circular economy for textiles is therefore important because it will eliminate waste in the industry and enable various approaches for reuse, recycle and repurposing of textile waste for generation of new products at the end of their utilization, as well as ensure the health and safety of everyone – from manufacturers to end-users.

Use safe and recyclable materials

The textiles industry is water-intensive. In fact, textiles production uses about 93 billion cubic meters of water yearly.

This is because virtually all steps of manufacturing textiles consume water – dyeing, applying chemicals, finishing, washing, etc. It also pollutes the water system with chemicals, detergents, and microfibers that were used in the process.

As such, using safe and recyclable materials will go a long way in reducing the demand for limited natural resources, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, and eliminating worker and community exposure to toxic substances.

Use clothes for longer periods

Using textiles and by extension, clothes, for a longer period before recycling reduces the use of chemicals, water, and fossil fuels that would originally have been used in producing more clothes if people regularly threw them away. This does not only protect human health but also protects biodiversity.

Practice textile recycling

Textiles that have reached the stage that they can no longer be used can be collected and recycled. Recycling textile waste materials contributes largely to the conservation of natural resources for production and limits reduces chemical use.

How the textile industry can transition to a circular economy

First, textiles should be made with high-quality fiber (made of homogenous fibers rather than complicated blends) so that they can be easily repaired and last for a long time.

Also, sustainable fashion should be adopted where clothes are worn for longer. People can also purchase fewer clothes or simply go for second-hand clothes.

In addition, the used textiles trade sector should be managed in a way that ensures environmental benefits and helps keep local industries alive.

For example, a large number of textiles that are collected for reuse are sent overseas and eventually end up as waste instead of being repurposed or recycled. This is not economically and environmentally sustainable.

Instead, the textile industry should strategically plan the collection, sorting, and recycling of textiles since it is currently labor-intensive and expensive.

Improving the efficiency of sorting these textiles is crucial for recycling since the quality and safety of recycled textiles are hugely dependent on what is used in them.

Finally, high-grade fibers should be made affordable so that they can be used in the production of textiles because it is only when recycled fibers are market competitive that businesses can adopt them on a large scale.

Bottom line

Manufacturers, companies, governments, and civil society organizations have a role to play in creating a circular economy for the textile industry.

Adopting these possible approaches for the use and reuse of textile products as well as the creation of renewable raw materials sources and recycling strategies, play a crucial role in the extension of the lifetime of textiles.

Watch this space as we’ll be back for another edition of our #CircularTuesday next week.

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