Wednesday 4 November 2015

Perfect Circle

An important challenge to sustainable fashion is based around a very simple question–how do we keep textiles out of landfill? A million tons of clothing goes to the tip in the UK every year, and a lot of it can be recycled in some form. The question isn't just how. The question is how to make it realistic for businesses to make the recycling process worth their while.

We're starting to see a situation where the fashion and textile industries are aware of both their terrible record on sustainability and how that record makes them look to the marketplace. They're looking for incentives and guidance to do the right thing. WRAP, the trans-national organisation at the heart of promoting ethical practice in the clothing market, is about to give them that very thing.

They've launched ECAP (European Clothing Action Plan), which has received a €3.6m fund from the European Union’s environmental financial support instrument, EU Life. The aim is to reduce the carbon, water and waste footprints of textile industries across 11 European countries, and drop the amount of clothing going to landfill–90,000 tons a year less by 2019.

It's an ambitious project with ambitious goals. But the EU funding means that there's an impetus to get businesses on board and explore new and innovative ways to make clothes with a smaller environmental impact. Closed-loop methods are not just being hand-waved as a blue-sky option that might make things better. They're actively promoted as a way to recapture wasted resources and pick up on new business opportunities.

There's also a strong focus on design. It's estimated that 80% of a garment's environmental impact is set at the drawing board. Educating designers in how to make their clothes easier to break back into their raw material means there's a much better chance of closed-loop-friendly garments becoming the norm.

Let's face it, change needs to happen. Earlier this year, WRAP tagged the textile sector alongside food & drink and electronics as areas that account for 25% of the UK’s carbon footprint, 40% of UK household waste and a whopping 80% of its water footprint. Just by targeting that sector, massive and lasting improvement can be made.

WRAP chief executive Liz Goodwin is cheerfully bullish about the future of ECAP:
“Finding more sustainable ways to work with textiles is an area set to deliver huge benefits – both economic and environmental. To be leading on a project of this magnitude is something I am very excited about, and applying tried and tested approaches such as voluntary agreements and consumer campaigns across Europe will really take our expertise to the next level. I look forward to watching this initiative progress.”
She's not the only one. Our View: major EU-funded initiatives like ECAP shows how seriously both government and business are looking at notions like closed-loop, which even five years ago seemed like a wacky, unattainable dream. With the money and the will in place, we could be looking at a future where clothing is no longer just a one-time deal.

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