The themes of climate change and circular economy come up increasingly often in discussions on textiles and fashion. It is of utmost importance that more efficient utilisation of materials from the perspectives of design, cutting waste and used materials is incorporated into studies.
Natural resources are a condition of life. Over the last few decades, the consumption of the Earth’s natural resources has almost doubled. In the 2000s, their consumption has continued to increase at an ever-accelerating rate. The amount of natural resources we use corresponds to almost 3.5 Earths. The Earth cannot withstand consumption in which natural resources are wasted in a short-sighted manner. We must consider the condition in which we wish to hand the Earth over to future generations. Until now, our economy has been based on a linear model in which products are manufactured from virgin materials. The circular economy is based on a closed loop of raw materials. The objective of the circular economy is that a product will circulate for as long as possible as is, then in a fixed and altered form and finally, through the recycling of materials, as reusable material.
In the linear economy model, products are manufactured from virgin materials. After the product is used, at worst the materials end up in a landfill or are incinerated as waste. The objective in a circular economy is to keep the materials in circulation for as long as possible and keep reusing them. A good example of the material cycle of textiles is the manufacturing of recycled fibres from discarded textiles. Once the textiles come to the end of their lifecycle, they can be collected, sorted and delivered to a recycled fibre plant. There, the material is used to make new, durable, high-quality fibre again and again for the needs of the textile industry.
The transition to a circular economy will lead to new innovations and operating models. New materials, services and forms of trading will be introduced. Digitality will increase in trade, and it will be made more consumer-friendly. High-quality product design is emphasised in the circular economy. Products can be designed so that once they come to the end of their lifecycle, they can be broken down into parts, adapted into another form or returned to the material cycle. At the end of its lifecycle, a product is easy to break down into parts if it is sewn with thread that can be melted away with heat. The different pieces of an item of clothing, as well as buttons and zips, can easily be removed for reuse.
Textile materials should be recycled attentively. High-quality fabrics can be used to make durable, unique products that meet the needs of users. A functional recycling system is already in place for some plastic products. As consumers, we are familiar with reverse vending machines that allow us to return used plastic bottles to shops. These bottles are used to manufacture ground plastic, which is then used to make new plastic products, such as plastic park benches. In a circular economy, the aim is to find similar recycling and reuse opportunities for all materials. The zero-waste approach becomes a way of life in which we transition from ownership and throwawayism to durable products.