5 Percent of the World's Waste Comes from Textiles

How circular is your outfit? Examples of Levi’s & van Hulley
5 Percent of the World's Waste Comes from Textiles 5 Percent of the World's Waste Comes from Textiles
Publ. date 7 Jun 2016
Circular economy business models require organizations to reinvent their current business and to start exploring new activities. Upon successful execution, they can enter new markets, gain market share and create a competitive advantage over their competitors. Ultimately, this will result in an increase in revenue.

The fashion industry is one of the industries with major opportunities for a circular economy. Every year, 80 billion kilograms of textile is produced, with an average of 10 kilograms of CO2 emissions per kilogram of textile. As a result, the global textile industry accounts for 10% of total CO2 emissions. In addition, 5% of total waste worldwide originates from the textile industry. Another environmental point with substantial impact is water. For example for every pair of jeans, one kilogram of cotton needs to be produced, which requires an average of 8,000 liters of water. Further down the process, another 150 liters of water is used for dying. These numbers show that there is plenty of room for creating positive impact.

Optimizing the value chain

Consumers are familiar with recycling bottles, paper, cans, but most still throw away clothing. To change this mindset, initiatives such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and the C&A Foundation have sprung. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition is  actively engaged in bringing actors in the supply chain together to address challenges that cannot be tackled alone. The Coalition was founded in 2009 and nowadays has more than 60 members who account for more than two third of the global apparel industry. The C&A Foundation is  vigorously working on improving the lives and communities of cotton farmers and factory workers.

What these initiatives show is that system-wide collaboration is key in addressing inefficiencies and achieving social and environmental transparency that today’s consumers demand. But more is needed to truly transform the industry. Real positive impact needs to come from company’s operations itself.

Levi Strauss & Co is one of the companies that embraced the circular economy. Their ultimate goal is to have completed its road towards a circular economy by 2020. As a first step towards this audacious goal, Levi ‘s has started producing jeans from recycled cotton in partnership with Evrnu. This start-up firm developed a technology to recycle cotton waste to create a renewable fiber. By producing cotton in this way, water use is reduced by 98% compared to the traditional way of growing of cotton on farms. Because the chemicals used to dissolve old clothing are fully reused in a closed loop, the new process does not create any pollution. Paul Dillinger, head of global product innovation at Levi’s, comments: “This technology is a step forward in mitigating risks and creating a future-proof supply chain.”

The era of the end consumer is over

What happens when the product is sold to the “end customer”?  At some point, the garment is worn out, or no longer matches current fashion trends. Van Hulley provides a solution and turns your favorite worn out shirt into custom-made boxer shorts. The Dutch start-up extends the product life by clearly focusing on using waste as a raw material for a new product. In 2015, Van Hulley has grown by more than 50% in terms of sales compared to 2014. At the World Economic Forum 2016, Van Hulley came in second place in the People Choice Awards for most inspiring circular economy story.

To date, Van Hulley’s efforts have led to environmental savings of almost 2,800 kg of CO2 from reduced material manufacturing, 139 kg pesticides, and more than 2.2 million liters of water. The company not only works on its environmental aspirations, but also fulfils a social mission. For production, Van Hulley employs women with no formal qualifications, but who are eager to get a job and have the drive to deliver a positive impact on society. Van Hulley supports them through education and offers the leeway to gain valuable work experience.

Move the the Circular Economy now

At Finch & Beak, we believe that the rapidly shifting society is spurring companies to adjust existing business in order to secure their future success. We see the current development of the circular economy as a demanding change today. What these examples show is that key elements of successfully embracing the circular economy are having a clear focus area and value chain collaboration. If you are looking for practical guidance on how to implement the circular economy in your organization, call Jan van der Kaaij today at +31 6 28 02 18 80 or send him an email at: jan@finchandbeak.com

Image: Levi Strauss & Co

About Bas Nuijten

Sustainability professional aiming to help organizations to continuously improve their sustainability strategies. | 
bas@finchandbeak.com

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