Transforming Industries through a Circular Economy
Since 2000, the fashion industry has seen a shift away from two seasons of production (spring/summer and fall/winter) to almost 50-100 microseasons per annum. This has greatly reduced the cost of clothing. Fashion can be made quickly to meet the fashion trends and increase affordability. Apparel sales increased by 60% between 2000 and 2015. There has been a 40% drop in the number of clothes that consumers already own. This trend is expected to have a triple effect on manufacturing resource consumption by 2050.
Polyester and cotton make up about 90% of all clothing. They require large amounts of resources to produce. Chemical runoff from pesticides used in cotton production can cause chemical pollution of nearby water wells, rivers and lakes. This is because water runs off the crops into streams and waterways. The 16.5% pesticide use in cotton cultivation is responsible for water pollution and possible degradation of marine biodiversity.
Global human-caused greenhouse gas emission
Global human-caused greenhouse gas emission from clothing is between 3-6.7% and 5.5%. The average consumer tossing 80% of his or her clothes in the garbage, while only 55% of the clothing they own. Fabrics made from synthetic materials can shed hundreds of tonnes of microfiber and plastic when they are washed. Unbeknownst to most consumers, plastics are often integrated into clothes in order to increase the durability and aesthetics of the garment. This has an unintended effect on the environment. Synthetic clothes can lose 700,000 fibres per load of laundry. 65 million tonnes of plastic was used to make textile fibres in 2016. A circular economy is defined as synthetic clothing that accounts for between 20% and 25% of microplastics found within marine ecosystems.
Innovative design is a key element in this paradigm
The rapid rise in textile waste has sparked a renewed interest in circular economies. The circular economy paradigm was first introduced by Kenneth Boulding back in 1966. It is based upon the idea that all resources are valued and the resources can be kept in circulation for as long as possible. The core activities of a circular economy are reuse at product, reuse at component, and reuse at material levels. Innovative design is a key element in this paradigm. Four stages comprise the circular design process.
They are all human-centered. The purpose of the first stage, “Understand”, was to get to know the users and the system that makes up the item. Next, the stage “Define” outlines the design challenge. The next stage, “Define”, is where the designer creates the prototype of the product. The final stage is the “Release”, which launches the item to the general public. The design process is meant to be continuous and to improve the compatibility of ideas with economic systems and consumers. Ellen MacArthur, a former professional sailor, founded The Ellen MacArthur Foundation to raise awareness about the benefits of a circular economic system and encourage society to transition to it. The foundation’s mission was to work with businesses, institutions and governments to help them implement the circular framework into policy and innovation.
These processes are not intended to be “instriscally sustainable” in order to improve the environment. The MacArthur Foundation has identified three principles to address environmental damage. They are: reduce waste and pollution; keep products and materials used; and restore natural systems. Figure 3 shows this concept, which is specifically tailored for the fashion industry. Companies like Adidas and Patagonia have been more aware of the environmental impacts of the $1.3 trillion fashion industry.
Patagonia’s commitment to reducing waste in manufacturing was first demonstrated in 1993 when it produced a polyester jacket from recycled plastic bottles. The brand has used recycled plastic instead of petroleum to make synthetic fabric since 1993, when it began using 20,000 barrels per year as raw material. Adidas showcased a hoodie made from regenerated cotton by Evrnu, a textile innovation company. Evrnu CEO Stacy Flynn launched her company after she realized how damaging and impactful the industry was to the environment. Evrnu is an example how clothing production can, according to the MacArthur Foundation’s principles “keep products and material in use.” New Economic Opportunities for Women
Environmental damage caused by industries
The transition to a circular economy will not only reduce the environmental damage caused by industries but also open up new opportunities for all industrial sectors. If circular economy practices are implemented effectively, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that the global economy can create almost 3 million jobs and increase capital gain by 2 trillion dollars (USD).
Women will benefit from these jobs, particularly in the less developed regions of the globe. Initiatives for sustainable consumption in Zimbabwe and Indonesia improved the quality of community waste management and sanitation. They also increased income for households when women were involved at the local level. Rede Asta, a Brazilian business, invests in female entrepreneurs that turn discarded materials into new products and marketable gifts. The business addresses the problem of the circular economy through targeted training sessions for female artisans. These workshops teach them how to make new products from waste. It also provides opportunities to work in a market that is estimated to be worth BRL 5,8 billion (USD 1,1 billion).