PACE (Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy), a forum of more than 100 leading politicians, business leaders and NGOs, has today launched The Circular Economy Action Agenda for Textiles which clearly outlines key opportunities, challenges and barriers to adopting a circular economy for textiles and fashion.
Circularity has long been discussed in the industry as an essential system shift which could play a part in helping move us towards a future where we are operating within planetary boundaries, as well as the Paris Agreement goals. However, with a lack of suitable and scalable technologies and systems, and even a general consensus on what constitutes ‘circular’, the change has so far been slow.
This action plan has therefore been designed to support a move to a system “designed to prevent waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems – leading to a more resilient economy,” according to PACE global director David McGinty, in a way that prioritizes collaboration to overcome key barriers that are currently preventing a consideration of circularity.
To do this we need to work together across sectors – from financial investment in scientific research and development, governments setting policy, and brands adapting their business models. This agenda sets out ten key areas and the environmental, social, economic, and technological challenges that need to be overcome, in order to enable a full system shift.
The Circular Economy Action Agenda for Textiles:
1. Incentivise and Support Design for Longevity and Recyclability
Textile products can be designed to last a long time by using high-quality fibres, making them easy to repair, and designing ‘timeless’ styles. Recyclability can be built in by using safe materials that are easy to disassemble, as well as focusing on homogenous fibres rather than complicated blends. Incentives and support are needed to encourage this approach in the design stage.
2. Produce Virgin Natural Fibres Sustainably, Including Land Use
Even with large-scale recycling, it will be unrealistic for the textiles industry to use only recycled materials in the foreseeable future. Action should therefore focus on working to produce virgin plant-based fibres such as cotton in a more sustainable way.
3. Encourage the Market to Use Less Clothing, and for Longer
Rethinking consumption means buying less, buying second-hand, supporting sustainable fashion, and keeping clothes in use for longer.
4. Guide and Support New Business Models for Environmental, Financial, and Social Triple-Win
New business models such as subscription, rental, and re-commerce need to be designed with environmental, social and financial impacts in mind, so that they can grow and contribute in a meaningful way to the wellbeing of people and planet.
5. Where Used Textiles Trade Occurs, Ensure Environmental and Socio-Economic Benefits
Around 70% of textiles collected for reuse is sent overseas, but much of it is likely to end up as waste rather than actually being repurposed or recycled. The used textiles trade should be managed to ensure environmental benefits and help preserve local industries.
6. Strategically Plan Collection, Sorting, and Recycling Operations
Collection and sorting of used textiles is very labor-intensive, and recycling facilities are large-scale projects requiring long-term investment. All need to be planned carefully to ensure they are in the right place and offering the right services.
7. Increase Efficiency and Quality in Textiles Sorting
Textiles sorting is currently labor intensive, costly, and inaccurate. Improving the efficiency and quality of sorting is crucial for textiles recycling, since the quality and safety of recycled textiles strongly depends on what goes into them.
8. Make the Recycled Fibres Market Competitive
Only when recycled fibres are market competitive can businesses adopt them on a significant scale, and in turn further stimulate the development of recycled material supply chains.
9. Integrate and Advance Decent Work in the Transition to a Circular Economy for Textiles
A circular economy for textiles will have a complex effect on decent work, shifting employment from farming and manufacturing to later stages of the value chain such as repair, resale, sorting and recycling. It provides the potential for higher quality jobs, especially for informal workers, improving working conditions and safety, as well as wages and social security. It will not happen automatically though—targeted efforts are needed from governments, companies, and civil society organisations.
10. Investigate the Socio-Economic Impacts of a Circular Economy for Textiles
There is a lack of quantitative research to understand the potential socio-economic effects of increased circularity in textiles, so we need more research to bridge this critical knowledge gap.