The Circular Economy model ‘closes the loop’ of industrial supply chains to reintegrate energy and waste by-products into the economic cycle. It thus places the spotlight on the potential of re-use, recycling, and renewable energy sources as part of the overall economy.

Knowing about Circular Economy means knowing about the following three, as they are particularly relevant to the Textiles & Clothing business:

  • Research and policies for the Circular Economy, identifying the main actors developing the concept
  • Concepts and models for the T&C industry, with examples of how specific ideas within the Circular Economy paradigm are particularly relevant to Business Labs.
  • R&D and related initiatives in the T&C industry, with a listing of projects dealing with specific technologies for reducing waste, recycling textiles, etc.

Finally, action strategies are listed as suggestions for TCBL business pilots to incorporate the Circular Economy in their activities.

A new policy framework

The traditional supply chain model for industrial production claims to add value at different steps from raw materials to the end consumer, but fails to adequately account for waste and pollution. In fact, the environment is considered as an infinite resource for raw materials on the one hand, and an infinite sink in which to dump waste and chemical by-products on the other.
The Circular Economy model closes the loop by re-connecting linear value chains, considering one process’s waste as another process’s raw material. The Ellen Macarthur Foundation defines the Circular Economy as follows:

“A circular economy is one that is restorative and regenerative by design, and which aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times, distinguishing between technical and biological cycles.”

The Circular Economy concept has recently been adopted with great emphasis by the European Commission, in a series of Communications and funding programmes launched in December, 2015.

This includes proposed directives on waste, packaging waste, landfill, and electrical and electronic waste, the introduction of a specific “cross-cutting focus area” in the H2020 2016-2017 work programme, and policy frameworks for the ESIF (EU Structural and Investment Funds) with a particular eye on Smart Specialisation.

Since the Circular Economy appears to be emerging as a new policy framework, it is important to underline it’s significant relevance for the T&C industry.

First, as a general model, the Circular Economy model transforms environmental policies from a ‘punitive’ to an ‘opportunity’ approach, and can thus be used to leverage business innovation in a positive light.

Secondly, the Circular Economy provides a framework for many of the qualitative aspects related to innovative T&C approaches: systems resilience, the role of diversity, emotionally durable design, and so forth.

Finally, the Circular Economy provides a unifying framework for many specific fields of research and innovation that are ongoing for some time now in the T&C sector.

Research and Policies for the Circular Economy

Several research institutes and foundations have dedicated activities or even been constituted to investigate the Circular Economy, its implications, and related business models. This includes the following organisations.

  • The Ellen Macarthur Foundation
    Established in 2010, this foundation aims to accelerate the transition to the circular economy. The charity’s work focuses on four interlinking areas: education, business and government, insight and analysis, and communications. The main global partners include: Cisco, Google, H&M, Intesa Sanpaolo, Kingfisher, Philips, Renault, and Unilever.
  • Circle Economy
    This is a cooperative consisting of two groups: Circle of Action, with members implementing concrete initiatives, and Circle of Consciousness, with a strategic guidance function. Circle Economy is developing a roadmap to make Amsterdam the first truly circular city, and has a varied membership including Mud Jeans, Black Rock, Philips, TNO, the City of Amsterdam, FairPhone, ABN Bank, Click NL, Schipol Airport, Accenture, and KPMG.
  • WRAP
    This UK Charity has launched a new five year plan, ‘Resource Revolution, Creating the Future’ with a specific section on Clothing and Textiles.
  • Circular Economy Awards
    We even have the first awards programme, sponsored by the Forum of Young Global Leaders in collaboration with Accenture.

Concepts and Models for the T&C Industry
The Circular Economy is essentially a framework model encompassing several pre-existing concepts and approaches which can be, individually, of particular relevance to the T&C sector and to the work of the TCBL Business Labs. (headings below from Wikipedia)

  • Waste is food
    Here, the logic is to consider separately the biological and technical components of a product and see how they re-fit into value chains. This applies to reasoning behind fibres, in particular to organic fibres.
  • Diversity is strength
    This in the first instance means that diversity contributes to systemic resilience. More specifically, the emphasis is on longer-lasting products, in particular through the strategy of emotionally durable design. This relates directly to ways to address the Fast Fashion trend, ie through initiatives such as WRAP’s Love your Clothes.
  • Industrial Ecology
    This approach looks at loop processes within business ecosystems. It’s relevant to TCBL in that a) it looks as businesses in a more broader transactional setting that supply chains and b) the approach also focuses on social well being.
  • Cradle to cradle
    This emphasis a design approach that advocates “service-life extension of goods – reuse, repair, remanufacture, upgrade technologically” as a strategy for waste prevention, regional job creation and resource efficiency in order to decouple wealth from resource consumption. The vision is sustained by five pillars: nature conservation, limited toxicity, resource productivity, social ecology, and cultural ecology.

R&D and related initiatives in the T&C Industry
There are many on-going research and awareness initiatives currently or recently active, each with a specific relevance to Circular Economy goals and methods and many with the involvement of Euratex.

  • ECAP: European Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (2015-2019)
    The overall objective of the LIFE ECAP project is to adopt a circular approach to divert over 90 000 tonnes/year of clothing waste from landfill and incineration across Europe by March 2018, and to deliver a more resource efficient clothing sector. ECAP will set targets aiming to scale up these savings by 2020 to over 540 000 tonnes/year (€111 million), and by 2030 to over 700 000 tonnes/year(€144 million).
  • ECWRTI: Electro Coagulation for Water Recycling in Textile Industry (2015-)
    Textile mills can reduce their water consumption by up to 90 percent using the EColoRO concept, which consists of electrocoagulation followed by membrane filtration, to treat their wastewater without using chemicals and then reuse it.
  • Resyntex: a New Circular Economy Concept for Textiles and Chemicals (2015-)
    RESYNTEX is a research project which aims to create a new circular economy concept for the textile and chemical industries. Using industrial symbiosis, it aims to produce secondary raw materials from unwearable textile waste.
  • EcoProFabrics: Eco innovation programme (2014-)
    Exploring the market opportunities for a 100% recyclable polyester fabric, known as Returnity, in a range of workwear, demonstrating a fully circular supply and production chain.
  • SET: Save Energy in Textile SMEs (2014-2016)
    SET project was launched to deliver real added-value solutions for European textile SMEs. SET will assist at least 150 textile companies in determining the right energy saving measures. Future legal obligations, financial incentives and technologies will also be assessed.
  • SESEC: Sustainable Energy Saving for the European Clothing Industry (2011-2015)
    Based on industry-driven ideas, the SESEC project facilitates energy efficiency in the European clothing production industry. Coordinated by EURATEX, SESEC developed and offered energy efficiency tools and related training for companies to implement measures considering cost-effectiveness.
  • ARTISAN: Reduction of energy consumption and carbon footprint in the European textile industry (2011-2014)
    The ARTISAN project envisioned significant reductions (at least 10%) in energy consumption and CO2 emissions of the European Textile Industry by integrating data-capturing technologies, process-based energy measurement and real-time optimization of operations. It provided enterprise management systems with services for monitoring and operational decision making, available at each supply chain partner, and, additionally, trading services for energy and carbon permits forging collaboration across supply networks.

Moving the T&C industry towards the Circular Economy
The Circular Economy will clearly influence the development of the TCBL project, in particular by providing a framework for reaching the goal of a 20% ecological footprint reduction by 2025. TCBL Business Pilots can contribute by building Circular Economy guidelines into their innovation strategies, following the three steps below:

  • Find circularities: businesses can individually map their material and energy flows and identify points for possible circularities, together with the business advantages that can be derived.
  • Design circular: businesses can identify aspects of their product design that can maximise the business benefits of the circular concept.
  • Make contact: moving towards circularity by definition involves connecting with others, be they research institutions proposing new technologies or other industries interested in using by-products. TCBL provides the ideal setting for identifying new partners and building new value chains that are based on circular principles.

European Parliament (2015): Circular economy: the importance of re-using products and materials, link.