Since circular economy is a system of thinking and doing business, it is also critical for us to change our social structures top to bottom. However, especially due to its place on the agenda, we see circular economy more in the transformation of various sectors in the fight against the climate crisis.
The most critical of the sectors in this struggle is the textile indusrty, which, like the food industry, involves the consumer a lot, but whose transformation is much more complex due to its current structure. The textile industry is in a very important position both because of its potential and because it is a sector with direct consumer impact. For this reason, it needs to be handled much more carefully than other sectors and carry out its circular transformation.
In this week's article, we will discuss the transformation of the textile industry and the duties and responsibilities of stakeholders, especially in the European Union countries, with reference to the report "Sorting for Circularity Europe: an Evaluation and Commercial Assessment of Textile Waste Across Europe" prepared by Fashion For Good and Circle Economy.
👕 The current state of the textile industry
92 million tonnes of textiles are buried in landfills worldwide every year. If this doesn't mean anything to you, let's use an analogy. One garbage truck full of textile products is buried in the ground every second.
Unfortunately, the waste generation of the textile industry is not limited to the products. Today, the textile industry alone causes 20% of the water pollution due to the use of chemicals in its current practices.
The potential of this industry is as high as its negative effects. According to the research shared in the report, close to 500 thousand tonnes of clothing and textile products in only six European Union countries have the structure that would allow closing the cycles. Although 92 million tonnes of textile waste may seem small compared to this amount, we can better understand the potential of the industry when we consider that textile waste in only six countries has this potential. When this is considered from another aspect, a potential emerges for the textile industry to create an average annual value of 74 million Euros.
So what are the duties and responsibilities of the stakeholders in order to unlock this potential and for the textile industry to transform in accordance with circular economy? Let's investigate together.
🚚 Waste collectors, sorters and recyclers
Re-collecting of products in circular economy is much more complex than other processes as it requires many different stakeholders to fulfil their duties and responsibilities at the same time. To date, recycling processes have mostly focussed on the collection process, while the waste management processes in which the products will be included after collection have been ignored or not prioritised. This means that even if the products are somehow collected back, they are not properly included in waste management and thus continue to cause pollution through waste generation.
In order to carry out a circular waste management process, it is necessary to carry out R&D processes that are independent of all existing processes, handled with innovative approaches and actively using new technologies. The textile sector has products that are difficult to recycle and separate, especially due to the chemicals used in production processes. This is a major obstacle to the correct implementation of R-strategies within the circular economy of existing technologies. For this reason, the duties of stakeholders who are responsible for waste management processes and making waste reusable in the cycle, which can be handled as collectors, recyclers and sorters, are to find innovative solutions that will force the legal regulations related to these processes to change and to redesign waste management processes.
🏭 Manufacturers and textile brands
Manufacturers are seen as the stakeholders with the most responsibility in circular economy. However, as we mentioned in our previous articles, the steps they take alone are not enough to establish a complete circular system. However, manufacturers also have critically important duties and responsibilities as their sphere of influence is very wide.
It is the responsibility of manufacturers to design products in accordance with the principles of circular economy at the very beginning, at the design stage, from raw material procurement to production processes, from logistics to consumption and even post-consumption waste management processes. This proves the impact of manufacturers. For this reason, it is imperative for manufacturers to adopt innovative business models that will guide the stakeholders we defined above as collectors, recyclers and sorters to implement strategies that will enable textile brands to re-cycle products after use.
While lawmakers often have the task of accelerating the transformation process, this is unfortunately not the case anywhere in the world. However, there are two main topics that legislators should carefully address in order to carry out the transition to circular economy in the right way. The first of these is the realisation of regulations that will facilitate the transition of the private sector to circular economy. In addition to financial incentives, it is the duty of lawmakers to establish and lead platforms to increase the momentum of transformation by bringing together stakeholders such as the private sector, waste management, academia and NGOs.
The second issue is to ensure that the price of recycled textile raw materials in the free market is lower than that of unprocessed raw materials and to increase the demand for these raw materials. Legislators are obliged to support consumers and producers by providing product-based price control when necessary. For the transition to a circular economy, price controls and financial incentives of the legislators are critical in order to include stakeholders in the process, especially in terms of 'financial return'. It may be possible to ensure the traceability of resources by harmonising regulations with new technologies. A comprehensive resource monitoring regulation that will include data science will help prevent waste generation for many different sectors, especially textile waste.
Although consumers are not taken into account much in the transition to circular economy, they have a greater responsibility than any other stakeholder in the textile industry, as in many other sectors. The fact that not only the material dimension but also the environmental and social dimensions are effective in purchasing decisions clearly shows the potential impact of consumers on the entire transformation process.
Based on this, consumers should contribute to increasing recycling rates by preferring textile products produced using a single raw material, products that are easier to separate, and actively and correctly use the recycling opportunities offered by various stakeholders, especially municipalities.
In conclusion, the potential of textile products that we frequently use in daily life, which we can consider as low-value textile products, in circular economy cannot be ignored. However, as we mentioned in the introduction, this process has a very complex structure. For this reason, it is critical that all stakeholders know their duties and responsibilities in the transformation process, and that decision-making processes are carried out by going deeper into environmental, social and economic dimensions.
It may be possible to achieve a complete transformation at the point where we consider circular economy not only as a waste management process, but also as a way of thinking and building systems, and integrate its principles into all decision-making mechanisms.