EMF launches Circular Fibres Initiative to map a sustainable future for textiles

Key stakeholders from around the world have been brought together to take steps towards a circular economy for textiles, as part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s new Circular Fibres Initiative, taking clothing as a starting point for action.

EMF launches Circular Fibres Initiative to map a sustainable future for textiles
An estimated 620,000 tonnes of clothing, worth an estimated £140 million, is sent to landfill in England and Wales every year
Announced by Dame Ellen MacArthur today (11 May) at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, a global summit organised by the Global Fashion Agenda to promote sustainability in the fashion supply chain, the new initiative will work with participants to outline a vision for a new global fibres system, moving away from a linear model and towards a circular model focused on sustainable growth benefiting citizens and businesses alike, while progressively reducing waste and pollution in the supply chain.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, set up in 2010 to advance the transition to a circular economy, launched a similar project, the New Plastics Economy initiative, in 2016, bringing together stakeholders from the plastics value chain, government and science to create a sustainable plastics system.

The new initiative will be hoping to benefit from this as it takes its first steps by conducting an analysis of the textiles industry with management consultants McKinsey & Co. to map how textiles flow around the global economy, which externalities are a product of that, and how a new circular economy for textiles could be built and what it would look like.

Fibres represent a significant part of the global economy, with clothing production doubling in the last 15 years and sales of footwear and clothing reaching US$1.67 trillion in 2016.

It is therefore not surprising, in its current linear value chain, that this places great strain on the environment and resources. Clothing production now accounts for around three per cent of global CO2 emissions and cotton production is responsible for one quarter of world insecticide use.

The challenges faced in textiles recycling, meanwhile, are numerous. Consumers are far more ready to throw out old or unwanted clothing, with 85 per cent of clothing waste in the US ending up in landfill. In the UK, the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) last year stated that 1.7 million tonnes of UK textiles are consumed every year, of which 650,000 tonnes were collected in 2014. However, this figure declined by four per cent in 2015, due to price decreases and a fall in demand in overseas markets.

Furthermore, research conducted by supermarket Sainsbury’s last month revealed that three quarters of Britons admit that they throw away unwanted clothes rather than donating or recycling them, largely due to thinking that they cannot be recycled when they are worn out or dirty.

Commenting on the launch, Dame Ellen MacArthur said: “The way we produce, use, and reprocess clothing today is inherently wasteful, and current rising demand increases the negative impacts. The Circular Fibres Initiative aims to catalyse change across the industry by creating an ambitious, fact-based vision for a new global textiles system, underpinned by circular economy principles, that has economic, environmental, and social benefits, and can operate successfully in the long term.”

The initiative is being supported by retailers H&M and Nike, along with a raft of smaller organisations including the Danish Fashion Institute, Fashion for Good, Cradle to Cradle and Mistra Future fashion. Its core funder is philanthropic organisation the C&A Foundation.

The Circular Fibres Initiative is set to release its first publication in Autumn 2017.

A catalyst for change

Leslie Johnston, Executive Director of initiative supporter C&A Foundation, said: “The Circular Fibres Initiative is important because it will establish the shared agenda and deep collaboration needed to shift the apparel industry to regenerative and sustaining business models.”

Last year, leading fashion designer Stella McCartney said that the fashion industry was “getting away with murder” by continuing to use unsustainable and environmentally-harmful practices, called on consumers to challenge the fashion industry’s harmful ways of operating.

Anna Gedda, Head of Sustainability at H&M Group, added: “We are aware that our vision means a big change on how fashion is made and enjoyed today and if we want to take the lead in this challenge, collaboration and accelerating innovation and circular systems together with the industry is crucial.  

“The Circular Fibres Initiative will define a shared vision for a new global textile system and it will be an important foundation for collaboration to accelerate the journey towards a circular textile industry.”

For more information on the Circular Fibres Initiative, visit the dedicated page on the Ellen MacArthur Foundation website.

An in-depth look at the textiles industry's green credentials and potential can also be found in Resource's feature on the future of sustainable fashion.

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