It is not an overstatement to say that waste lies at the heart of the fashion industry. The dominant model of fast fashion sees clothing as a disposable item, inevitably generating 92 million tons of textile waste each year, of which 87% ends up in a landfill.
We must focus on a complete change of model. More and more studies show that decarbonization practices to slow climate change will only solve half of the problem.
According to the "Completing the Picture" study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, "decarbonization efforts (...) could address a maximum of 55% of total emissions; while the remaining 45% corresponds to the circular economy."
To achieve real change, we urgently need to move towards circularity in the textile sector. The big question is how?
Accelerating the circular transformation of textiles
Despite the well-known criticisms that the textile sector has accumulated for more than a decade due to its high environmental and social cost, the production model has not undergone major changes. Even taking into account the general effort to incorporate more sustainable practices, the reality is that in 2023 the textile industry will still be one of the sectors with the greatest impact on the environment.
And a linear production industry still predominates, promoting overconsumption and quickly disposable garments. Perhaps because imagining a prosperous future in which clothing maintains its value throughout its life cycle and is reintegrated into the economy after use requires a deep exercise of adaptation to the new paradigm.
As the British physicist and mathematician William Thomson Kelvin said, "What is not defined cannot be measured. What is not measured, cannot be improved. What is not improved, deteriorates."
Just as the "Carbon Footprint" is a homogeneous and transversal measure within the framework of greenhouse gas emissions, at T-Neutral we propose the use of the term "Textile Footprint" to measure the tons of textile, useful or discarded, emitted throughout the supply chain of a textile producer during a certain period.
Establishing a unifying unit of measurement is key to starting to move towards circularity as it allows us to establish a universal framework of action.
This way, we can start comparing resource and waste management initiatives, establishing the most effective practices to reduce said "Textile Footprint" and setting mitigation and circularity goals both individually and at the industry level.
The next step in our path towards circularity is to establish textile footprint reduction practices that are appropriate for each case and optimize results, in a constant process of evaluation and improvement.
This phase currently has many opportunities and contrasted strategies, as well as practices in full development. Among many other examples, we can highlight digital prototyping, the use of fabrics and finishes that guarantee durability and recyclability, optimization of post-industrial waste, or garment repair services.
Measuring and reducing are circular practices designed to remain indefinitely, constantly evolving towards increasingly efficient circularity. However, unfortunately, they are not enough to solve the problem today.
We need a mechanism that allows us to assume and manage a certain amount of textile that is out of control and, of course, all that accumulated over decades of linear production. In that sense, contribution is a truly effective tool for solving the problem.
Whether through mandatory EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) systems or in the voluntary textile credit market proposed by T_NEUTRAL, contribution allows for effective management of inevitable textile emissions and acts as a catalyst for textile waste recovery projects by directly linking polluters with waste management. This, in turn, contributes to the sustainable development of areas where discarded textiles are most problematic.
To give us an idea of what can be achieved through contribution, an economic contribution equivalent to 5% of what is produced globally each year would allow the recovery of 1.5 million tons of textile. A figure that, combined with textile waste reduction practices, could gradually bring us closer to the dream of a horizon free of textile waste.
If you want to delve deeper or need more information on the measurement methodology and the reduction and contribution phases, you can find it in this document, by contacting our team, or subscribing to our newsletter.