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Recycling Can’t Fix The Fundamental Flaws With Fast Fashion


Imagine if every piece of clothing you own could be recycled into fully new garments when they were worn out, or when you grew bored of them. This concept, called circularity, has become the buzzword du jour in fashion circles. But it’s usually an abbreviated definition of circularity that think tanks and policy papers endorse. A more comprehensive “circularity” would look at the amount of clothing produced and the full life-cycle costs of a garment, from eliminating the industry’s reliance on petroleum-based plastics and coal-powered plants to the toxic dyes, sweatshop assemblies, and massive shipping footprint required to make our clothing.


Instead, the circularity conversation in the fashion industry tends to focus primarily on reducing waste and, more specifically, recycling clothing. Take a look at the Global Fashion Agenda and their call to action for a circular fashion system: “By acting now,” says the agenda, “the fashion industry can lead the transition to a circular system that reuses and recirculates products and materials while offering new opportunities for innovative design, increased customer engagement, and for capturing economic value.”


The global fashion industry’s circularity focus is on reusing and recirculating clothing, not a retooling of the industry. And while recycling is important, it misses the mark when it comes to meaningfully reducing emissions. A study by Quantis found that even if the fashion industry reached the ambitious target of recycling 40% of fibers by 2030, it would reduce emissions by only 3% to 6%. At best, that’s a reduction rate of a paltry half of 1% per year. To seriously address climate change and the industry’s environmental impact more broadly, it must do better.

The narrower definition of circularity preferred by some parts of industry, one that focuses primarily on recycling clothes, won’t cut it. It’s insufficient. It fails to focus on the hyper production of clothing and the fossilized energy used to make or recycle the clothing (which is predominantly coal), and it fails to focus on the fossilized energy inside the clothing, which is predominantly plastic.

A genuinely circular agenda would focus on slowing down the cycle of fashion production and consumption and getting these fossil fuels out of every aspect of our clothing. That’s the only way we’ll be able to address fashion’s sizeable carbon footprint, which is 8.1% of global greenhouse gas emissions and about the same footprint as the European Union. And we need to act fast, because at current growth projections, the carbon impact of the apparel industry is expected to increase 49% by 2030 (a total footprint that would equal, in tonnage, America’s current annual greenhouse gas emissions). Read More at https://www.fastcompany.com/40562305/more-recycling-cant-fix-the-fundamental-flaws-with-fast-fashion

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