"Value chains can only last if they will be based on reuse and circularity. Chains based on mining waste will lose their value and eventually become obsolete, so investors understand this. I think this is hopefully just the start of moving the circular economy forward." Tony Fadell, Principal of Future Shape and the founder and former CEO of Nest Labs. (August 2022)
According to the World Economic Forum, achieving a circular economy would improve the wellbeing of the environment and that of humans. However, a lack of proper recycling measures across the globe is a challenge to obtaining this. “Businesses, governments, and citizens around the world increasingly recognize the challenges caused by our ‘take-make-dispose’ approach to production and consumption. In 2019, over 92 billion tonnes of materials were extracted and processed, contributing to about half of the global CO2 emissions. The resulting waste – including plastics, textiles, food, electronics and more – is taking its toll on the environment and human health.” (World Economic Forum) How is a circular economy defined and what does it do? As the World Economic Forum continues to illustrate, it “promotes the elimination of waste and the continual safe use of natural resources, offers an alternative that can yield up to $4.5 trillion in economic benefits to 2030.” (World Economic Forum)
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation describes the circular economy as being based on three principles, being: Eliminate waste and pollution; Circulate products and materials at their highest value; and Regenerate nature. “It is underpinned by a transition to renewable energy and materials. A circular economy decouples economic activity from the consumption of finite resources. It is a resilient system that is good for business, people, and the environment.” (Ellen MacArthur Foundation) Interesting enough, only 8.6% of the world can be categorized as being circular. When it comes to recycling, the United States still has a long road to pave towards better sustainability. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “267.8 million tonnes of municipal solid waste was generated by Americans in 2017, of which only 94.2 million tonnes were recycled or composted. 66% of discarded paper and cardboard was recycled, 27% of glass, and 8% of plastics were recycled.” (Columbia Climate School)
It's important to mention in this discussion that the textile industry is one of the most polluting sectors, as fast fashion thrives in a mass consumerist society. Around 92 million tonnes of clothes-related waste is discarded each year, which equates to a garbage truck full of clothes either incinerated or sent to a landfill every second, which is enough to fill one and a half Empire State buildings each day. (Earth.org) Circular Fashion, or an ethical approach to the fashion and textile industry that takes into consideration the environment and the human rights of workers, has been gaining momentum in the US as a means of creating a healthier industry while still maintaining profit and a flourishing economy. Successful businesses such as Thr3efold, a sustainable concierge platform providing apparel teams with access to an ethical supply chain, sustainability training and resources to grow their brand for people, planet, and profit, are paving the way for a thriving circular economy within the fashion industry and making sure that used clothing and fabrics are properly recycled, reused and discarded. Founder and CEO of the company, Jessica Kelly, started this business after a life-changing trip to India, where she was able to see first hand the issues that the supply chain faced and all the problems that the fashion industry had, setting herself on a mission to change it.
On November of 2019, the National Framework for Advancing the U.S. Recycling System was released, which aims at promoting education and outreach measures among other things. Waste Advantage Mag says that there is a direct link between education given on recycling and the wellbeing of the economy. “By teaching the society about the benefits of recycling, industries are able to cut on costs of raw materials. This reduced consumption of raw materials creates employment opportunities at all levels of the industry, as workers are needed for collection, sorting, processing, storage, and marketing of the new products. Additionally, there is a low impact on the environment since unwanted emissions are avoided during manufacturing hence reduced costs on restoring deteriorated environments.” (WasteAdvantageMag)
However, others argue that recycling is not necessarily a challenge to achieve circularity, rather something that needs to be fixed. According to climate change and mitigation scholar, Julian M. Allwood, “Most materials that are recycled today are downgraded in the process and, for some materials, recycling is more energy intensive than new production. Recycling must therefore be seen as one option in a hierarchy of material management strategies: overall demand for materials can be reduced by a reduction in total purchasing or by making lighter products that last longer; products.” (ScienceDirect) This symposium seeks to discuss the role that recycling plays in the circular economy model of the United States. It will give sustainability experts, ethical fashion advocates, and policymakers a space to discuss the current recycling practices in different angles of society, such as the fashion industry, and suggest further ways of improvement.
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