A recent report titled ‘Employment and the Circular Economy’, written by the recycling charity WRAP indicates that there is real potential in the recycling industry to create 205,000 new jobs and significantly reduce unemployment in the UK over the next 15 years.
These figures are based on studies carried out by WRAP and Green Alliance. According to the report, the gradual rejection of the linear process whereby products are made, used, then disposed of in landfill is slowly being replaced as more parts of the economy are getting involved with reusing and recycling materials. The logic behind the numbers is that within a circular business model, (where more and more materials are reused and recycled), more labour is required and more labour means more job opportunities.
INTELLIGENT DESIGN – THINKING AHEAD
There are already some great examples of companies working towards a more sustainable, circular economy, designing products that last longer or using parts that be repaired and replaced easily to increase the lifespan of an item.
Other businesses are focussing their efforts on identifying or designing materials that can be recovered and recycled once a product reaches the end of its lifespan, in order to minimise or eliminate waste.
EXCITING PROGRESS WITHIN THE TEXTILE INDUSTRY
The textile industry is a particularly interesting area at the moment with the emergence of several new textiles; designed in a way that makes it possible for them to be highly reusable and recyclable in the future. New textiles are being created from existing waste streams, recovering and recycling waste and creating useful, sustainable new products.
There are significant limitations when recycling natural fibres, because the recycling processes involved with processing previously used fabrics relies on the use of virgin fibres to produce new fabric. Recycled fibres are too short to produce a quality fabric, so they must be blended with virgin fibres. Often this means that a maximum of 20% recycled fibres can be used to create a new textile product, because any more than this and the quality of the textile, simply does not meet quality standards.
ECONYL – A SUSTAINABLE ALTERNATIVE
This product has been around for four years now; it is produced entirely from waste materials, making it an excellent example of a closed loop process.
The main raw material used to produce Econyl is used fishing nets. Marine litter is regenerated and transformed into a high quality raw material, which is then used in the production of new products including swimwear, underwear and socks.
Waste fishing nets are retrieved from the sea, creating employment opportunities in their collection. The nets are taken to processing facilities where they are sorted and shredded for recycling. This process involves the depolymerisation of the shredded material, followed by a re-polymerisation. Econyl matches virgin nylon material 100% in terms of quality and performance; it can also be reprocessed and recycled indefinitely with no loss of quality.
IN THE MEANTIME…
As we wait to see how exciting and innovative new fabrics like Econyl develop, we can all do our bit by rejecting fast fashion items and avoiding garments that have their feet firmly in the linear model of make – use – throw.
It seems unlikely that textile waste could ever be completely eliminated, but purchasing durable, timeless pieces that are made to last and recycling textiles responsibly is an effective way to significantly reduce the environmental impact of our clothing.
We may find that in the future, the increased labour involved in the production of more durable and sustainable items means that goods begin to cost more at the outset. But if that means that they last longer, it seems logical to assume that in the long term they will actually be cheaper both on the wallet and the environment.