Circular

infinite circular economy

Suddenly everyone is circular. But when can circularity be claimed, really?

Rachel founder Rethink Rebels

Hi!
I’m Rachel
You have gifts to
change the fashion 
industry and my job
is to help you
using them.

Read more

Let’s talk CIRCULAR. What is Circularity and how to implement this into your business?

We noticed suddenly everything is ‘circular’. But is that true? Or is it greenwashing? When can companies and brands claim that their product is circular? And how could you find out if you can validly make circular claims?

garment-waste_1

No clear definition of circularity

There are many different definitions of a circular economy, which makes it difficult to measure ‘circularity’. First of all, you need to know: there is no formal definition yet, and perhaps what we see now as ‘circular’ is obsolete in a couple of years/months…time will tell. Therefore terms such as ‘greenwashing’ in this area are hard to point out, because of the above-named reasons.

What is a circular economy?

Developed from concepts including Industrial ecology, regenerative design and Cradle to Cradle the first concept of circular economy (CE) emerged in the 1990s and gained more popularity this last decade. CE is an alternative to linear supply chains, where resources are extracted, processed, manufactured, transported, sold and then disposed of. This  way of organizing supply chains seem to have an ineffective use of energy, resources, as valuable materials disposed of before they have been used to their full potential. Also, disposing valuable materials and not reusing them puts even more pressure on virgin resource extraction and intensifies resource scarcity.

Ellen Mac Arthur infographic circular economy

Waste as a resource rather than just being disposed of, that’s what the CE stands for. CE also promotes the creation of durable products that last longer and are fit for purpose instead of being disposed of. CE aims to decouple economic growth from resource throughput in the supply chain. For example, post-consumer textile waste can be supplied to a recycler that regenerates and upcycles new yarn from this. Moreover, bio-based products can be returned to the environment to replenishes nutrient stocks and can help to restore ecosystem health. CE also encourages the use of renewable energy sources in place of fossil fuels. But also companies can use to have their product made of modular components to construct products or infrastructure such as Fairphone. When there are changes that need to occur, e.g. repairing the product, it can be easily taken apart, repaired, refurbished and reused, without requiring demolition. The outline of a Circular Economy figure below by the Ellen MacArthur foundation shows diversity in types of measures that can be applied to follow CE. A difference between biological and technical cycles is being made, there is energy recovering and the products are already developed within a circular system. CE is not only about environmental impacts or new economic models, but it also tries to influence social impacts. CE aims to limit environmental externalities, such as air pollution and toxic chemical use, which can harm human health.

Product approach circular comment

So if we look at a certain product, we should look at the levels of circularity. In the 10R diagram of the Circular Economy (Cramer 2017) each “R” is described. The higher you are on the ladder, the better in terms of circularity. Perhaps you can name 1 specific R to your developed product, or perhaps even more. Just remember: the higher, the better…

Ladder of Circularity

Circularity should include a systems approach

According to frontrunning organizations such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, we should not only ‘simply’ have a circular product approach, but look at the business model as well. System change follows these elements: 

A)Closed cycles(like an ecosystem, no waste, like take back systems)

In a circular economy, material cycles are closed following the example of an ecosystem. Waste does not exist, because any residual flow can be used to make a new product. Toxic substances are eliminated and residual flows are separated in a biological and a technical cycle. Producers take their products back after use and restore them for a new use life (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2015a). In this system, it is therefore not only important that materials are properly recycled, but that products, parts and raw materials remain of high quality in these cycles (Korhonen, Nuur, Feldmann & Birki, 2018)

 B) Renewable energy

The energy required to fuel the circular economy should be renewable by nature, to decrease resource dependence and increase systems resilience (to oil shocks, for example). This will be further enabled by the reduced threshold energy levels required in a circular economy. (Ellen MacArthur foundation 2015a)

C) Systems thinking(all stakeholders are part of this system and should be considered)

In a circular economy, systems-thinking is applied broadly. Many real-world elements, such as businesses, people or plants, are part of complex systems where different parts are strongly linked to each other, leading to some surprising consequences. To effectively transition to a circular economy, these links and consequences are taken into consideration at all times.

  

Is your product biodegradable or compostable? 

Let’s look at these words. What do they mean? I’ve added here explanations of (home) compostable vs biodegradable:

 Biodegradable

Something is biodegradable if it can be disintegrated by micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi or another biological process. 

Plastic can break down into carbon dioxide, water, and a few other things eventually. Technically they are biodegradable but the key thing is to take note of how long it takes for the product to biodegrade.

There are schemes and standards to certify that a material biodegrades in a specific environment within a specified timescale. Industrially compostable materials are biodegradable within the conditions and timescale specified in industrial composting standards but they do not biodegrade in home composting (lower temperature) conditions within the same timescale. Thus, the term ‘biodegradable’ is very broad and can easily be misinterpreted. As pointed out by European Bioplastics, ‘biodegradable’ by itself is not more informative than the adjective ‘tasty’ used to advertise food products. 

 

Compostable

While designing packaging for recycling comes with the advantage of keeping material value in the economy, designing packaging for composting can be valuable for targeted applications: it offers a mechanism to return biological nutrients from the contents of the packaging that would have otherwise been lost, such as the residue of packaged food, back to the soil in the form of fertilizer.

Home compostable materials are always also industrially compostable. However, in contrast to industrially compostable materials, home compostable materials can be treated at ambient temperatures and the timeframes for biodegradation and disintegration can be longer. Moreover, parameters such as moisture content, aeration, pH, and carbon to nitrogen ratio do not need to be controlled.   

(sources: Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation New Plastics economy)

Questions about circular economy, circular products or business models or even claiming so? Write them down in our comments below. Do you like this? Perhaps you like our previous article on 3 things you should know about recycled garments.  Do you see mistakes? Let us know! Do you want to stay informed? Sign up for our Newsletter or social via Facebook and Instagram.


Landfill

3 Things You Should Know About Recycled Garments

Aniek

Hi! My name is Aniek Baltussen. I am a sustainable business graduate who loves fashion and sees sustainable fashion as the future. “Green is the new black”. 

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Each year in Europe over 6 million tonnes of clothing is consumed. Also, each year in Europe about 16 million tonnes of textile waste is generated (including towels, carpets, bed sheets, … well, you get the picture).

Unfortunately, clothes are treated as single waste items, which obviously causes huge sustainability issues. On one hand we throw our garments easily ‘away’ while on the other hand we purchase new garments made from new resources. Shouldn’t we be able to close the loop and start imitating nature with its beautiful designed ecosystems and reuse this garment waste?

Did you know that currently only about 15% of the wasted textile material is recycled and most part of this is being downcycled? This means that the recycled textile is of lower quality and functionality than the original material. Often, it’s used as car stuffing or cleaning cloths. Rarely is it upcycled into new high quality, functional garments again.

But how come we see more and more fashion brands offering items from recycled textiles? What’s this about? Is it another type of greenwashing or can we really trust that these materials are more sustainable than materials that come from ‘virgin’ resources? When a brand sells for example ‘contains recycled cotton’ garments or ‘made from recycled polyester’ you should keep these things in mind:

T-shirt

1. 100% recycled garments are rare (for now)

Considering current recycling technologies, it is the case that 100% recycled textiles is much more expensive and/or of lower quality than virgin materials. Recycled content is therefore often mixed with virgin fibers to enhance the quality or financial costs of the item. Is that a bad thing? No, not necessarily. First, it shows current developments with the use of recycled textiles. The positive impact of 100 companies producing their fabrics with 10% recycled material is far more than one brand selling 100% recycled content-garments. Let’s call it economies of scale. Second, there are a lot of current technologies working to a higher and higher percentage of recycled textiles. For example, MUD Jeans is working on creating the first 100% recycled jeans in 2020 and UPSET is working on the production of 100% recycled cotton yarn. Keep an eye on these developments!

Fashion store

2. Recycled content from non-textile resources

Clothes made from recycled textile can also be made from a fabric with recycled content that was originally another item. For example, creating swimwear from recycled PET bottles. If these PET bottles were wasted and would otherwise be thrown away and go into landfill, or incinerated, it’s better to create clothes from it. RIGHT?! Great example of upcycling.

Another example is creating nylon from abandoned fishing nets, which contributes to cleaner oceans (hurray!). Creating clothes from other waste material as a resource, does not necessarily contribute to a lower textile waste pile, although it does diminish the use of raw material for clothing production.

We should keep in mind that upcycling processes shouldn’t be hazardous to the environment or people. So, keep asking your favorite brand how this product came to be.

Ocean

3. No official definition of recycled textile yet

At the moment there is no definition or agreement to what textile recycling means. Even an item that contains the lowest percentage of recycled material can be labelled with this information. The NEN (Dutch organisation that creates technical definitions) is currently working on a definition for recycled textiles. For example, they consider whether a recycled product can also contain virgin material or whether it should be made from textile-to-textile recycling only. This will create much more understanding in the future.

So, when purchasing clothes from recycled textile, know that there are good developments going. But also keep on asking brands what they exactly mean with their labels, with above named top three in mind. Being informed is key to making a considerate buying decision, as we vote with our money the kind of world we’d like to see.

Do you want to know more about recycled textiles or do you have questions for Aniek or Rachel? Feel free to do that in the comments below. Do you see mistakes? Let us know! Do you want to stay informed? Sign up for our Newsletter or social via Facebook and Instagram.


Transparent fashion supply chains

Transparent Supply Chains Explained. Is This Fashion's New Norm?

Rachel founder Rethink Rebels

Hi!
I’m Rachel
You have gifts to
change the fashion 
industry into a sustainable one
and my job is to help you
using these gifts.

Read more

Transparent supply chains is the norm for responsible companies. Rethink Rebels believes transparency is the first step to transform the fashion industry because of the simple thought “If you know what’s wrong, you can change it for better”. But why, oh why, is it so darn difficult to get transparency? Let us get down to the bottom of it.

Naked transparency

Fashion’s complex global production network

Fashion. One of the most complex global production networks. Global supply chains are opaque and consumers lack information. A simple ‘made in China’ label doesn’t say much about if the garment worker has a good job making the T-Shirt, now does it? We simply don’t know. We are increasingly disconnected from the people who make our garments. Did you know that 97% of our garments are made overseas? Feels a bit like we took ‘see nothing, hear nothing’ too literally, right? And yeah, we say we. Because we all buy clothes and have a common responsibility here…

We want transparency. Bad.

There is a growing trend of global apparel companies adopting supply chain transparency. Step by step brands starting to publishing the names, addresses, and other important information about factories manufacturing their branded products. For example G-Star Raw & H&M are showing this on their website already. Check out our post about Mud Jeans and how they report on transparency here.

At the same time, consumer interest in transparency has increased. The conversations and comments of consumers on social media have a growing impact on the perception and the sustainability performance of fashion brands. For example asking your favorite brand #whomademyclothes organized by Fashion Revolution. In response more companies make traceability a part of their value proposition and communication.

Gstar factory overview

Above picture shows the factories of G-Star

 

Transparency as tool for sustainable production

Transparency is a powerful tool for sustainable production and promoting corporate accountability for garment workers’ rights in these global supply chains. Brands and manufactures are enabled to identify challenges and risks along their supply chain. Also to get a better understanding to manage opportunities and introduce more sustainable practices. Transparency makes supply chains more efficient and enables more informed business decisions. Lastly, transparency equips companies with data which they can use for external communication and show the impact of products in a credible way.

Transparency Pledge

In 2016, 9 labor and human rights organizations formed a coalition to advocate for transparency in apparel supply chains as a first step. In 2017 the transparency pledge was signed by G-Star Raw, C&A, Zeeman and Esprit. In November 2019, 8 companies joined this pledge:

Okimono, Alchemist, Marlies Dekkers, Kings of Indigo, Kuyichi, WE fashion, Schrijvens Corporate fashion and HEMA. Yay! More to follow please.

Transparency pledge signees

Goal: Creating a supply chain standard

Simply said, signees promise to make their production locations known in a place that is accessible to citizens. Brands show their factories and sub-suppliers that are needed to manufacture a garment and update this regularly. By getting companies to publish standardized, meaningful information on all CMT (Cut Make Trim) factories it’s possible to create a common minimum standard for the supply chain.  Each company that signs this pledge commits to these steps within 3 months of commitment:

  1. Full name of all authorized production units and processing facilities (processing factories include printing, embroidery, laundry, and so on)

  2. The site addresses.

  3. The parent company of the business at the site

  4. Type of products made (apparel, footwear, home textile, accessories)

  5. Worker numbers at each site (by category: less than 1000, 10001-5000, 5001-10.000, more than 10.000)

Taking it further

Overall companies are increasing visibility in the supply chain, which is good. The focus still lies mainly on the processing and garment manufacturing stages. We need to address the complete supply chain with all chains involved. Think about manufacturing including wet processing such as dying and printing but also knitting, weaving, raw material processing and production. It’s a step into the right direction. Because we believe that little achievements produce big results. We are moving into the right direction and together we are able to transform the most complex global production networks into a sustainable one. Ready for the challenge?

Check here all transparent international production locations at Open Apparel Registry: https://openapparel.org/

Ready for to dive deep? Have a look at Fashion Revolution’s ‘Fashion Transparency Index 2019’.   

Do you want to know more or do you have questions for Rachel? Feel free to do that in the comments below. Do you see mistakes? Let us know! Do you want to stay informed? Sign up for our Newsletter or social via Facebook and Instagram.