Why is a circular economy for textiles important?
Textiles have long been an integral part of our daily lives and society, with diverse products ranging from fashion and apparel to healthcare items, industrial fabrics, and car upholstery. Today’s fashion industry is valued at US$1.3 trillion dollars, employing more than 300 million people globally.
But the sector’s significant use of finite resources and toxic chemicals, as well as issues such as conditions for garment workers producing fast fashion, are under increasing scrutiny. Meanwhile, billions of products go to waste: unsold in warehouses or stores, left unused in wardrobes, or discarded while still in good condition. There is urgent need for transformation.
Each year people throw away apparel worth an estimated $460 billion that they could continue to wear. Trends such as fast fashion heighten the issue, producing high volumes of low-quality fashion items that are difficult to recycle. If the average number of times a garment is worn were doubled, greenhouse gas emissions from textiles would be 44% lower.
A circular economy for textiles, fashion, and apparel is important because it aims to eliminate waste in the textiles industry, championing resource reuse and bringing clear benefits for natural resources, economic wellbeing, and the health and safety of the people who produce and dispose of our textiles.
What could circularity for the textiles and fashion look like?
In a circular economy for textiles:
Inputs for textiles are safe, recycled, or renewableThe textiles industry consumes some 215 trillion liters of water per year, polluting the water system with chemicals, detergents, and microfibers. Using safe, recycled, or renewable materials reduces demand for finite natural resources, decreases greenhouse gas emissions, and removes exposure to toxic substances for workers and communities.
Textiles are kept in use for longerEach year people throw away clothes worth an estimated $460 billion that they could continue to wear. Using textiles for longer means fewer new items are needed, reducing use of fossil fuels and chemicals, as well as reducing the pressure on water and land use for cotton farming. Keeping textiles in use for longer benefits both human health and biodiversity.;
Textiles are recyclable and recycled at end-of-useWhen textiles cannot be used or reused any longer, they should be collected and recycled. Recycling textile waste materials is expected to unlock a potential $100 billion value a year, as well as reducing natural resource and chemical use.
How to transition to a circular economy for textiles
Companies, governments, civil society organizations all have a role to play in creating a circular economy. These ten calls-to-action can help us accelerate the transition to a circular economy for textiles, and make it as impactful as possible.