Ever wonder how all the tangible products you own are made? And where they come from? And maybe even where exactly they end up after you’re done using them?
Let’s look at the difference between linear and circular economy. First off, just by the two names of these incredibly different economies says a lot about them. The linear economy has to do with the old fashion, take, make, dispose model of creating products, while the circular economy represents a much more regenerative design that we will dive deeper into as you read on.
The model of the linear economy is very linear, and is how a majority of the economy is ran today. It operates on a take, make, dispose model where the stuff we use and buy moves through a system from extraction, to production, to distribution, to consumption, to disposal. This means that it contributed to the growing landfills, adding a tremendous amount to the growing green house gases and methane that is the byproduct of landfills.
This system is a system in crisis due to all the negative effects it has on our planet and us as a whole. This is because it is a no way regenerative economy and since we live on a finite planet, it is in by no means sustainable. There is no way we can run a linear economy on a finite planet indefinitely.
Although easy to follow on a screen, this linear system is happening in the real world we live in and is doing a detrimental amount of damage to our planet.
Now that we’ve taken a look at the linear economy, let’s take a look at the circular economy. The circular economy is defined as an industrial system that is restorative and regenerative by intention and design. In essence, it closes the open loop that the linear economy opporates on and fails to complete. Instead of operating on a take make dispose system, the circular economy is continuously regenerating and has zero-waste in its cycle, like all other cycles that exist on this planet. It implements the “reuse, reduce, repurpose, recycle” points in a closed, ongoing loop of materials.
A few benefits include:
- designing out waste and pollution
- keeping products and materials in use
- regenerating natural systems
Why it matters
It’s incredibly important to know the effects of both the linear and circular economies. Linear being the one that is most in use and the result of the industrial revolution, while the circular economy I really do see being the future and helping to reverse and put an end to our wasteful culture.
If the circular economy is able to be implemented in place of the linear, there would be so many benefits, and landfills would not be needed as all products would be in a continuous use and going through the production system, or else safely decomposed or biodegraded into Earth’s soil so more of that resource can be produced.
Implementing the circular economy would also drive innovation and entrepreneurial new businesses and structures which will lead to an increase of jobs and build communities working together with more service rather than being fully consumer based cultures. This is due to the reuse, reduce and recycle model (circular) having much more potential for services over just products, while the take, make, dispose model (linear) thrives solely off a die hard consumer culture.
Negative impacts of Linear Fashion
As of now, the textiles system operates in an almost completely linear way:
- Large amounts of non-renewable resources are extracted to produce clothes that often get used for only a short period (think of fast fashion culture)
- after short life cycle, materials are sent to landfill or incinerated
- more than $500 billion of value is lost every year due to clothing under utilization and the lack of recycling textiles/materials.
Furthermore, this take-make-dispose model has endless negative environmental and societal impacts:
- total greenhouse gas emissions from textiles production is at 1.2 billion tons annually. This is more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined!
- Hazardous substances affect the health of both textile workers and wearers of clothes, then escaping into the environment
- When washed, some of these garments that are made with synthetic fibers release plastic microfibers of which around half a million tons every year contribute to ocean pollution – 16 times more than plastic microbeads from cosmetics
Making Fashion Circular
There is a solution that has continuous research and implementation around that could help create a system that works, delivering long term benefits and an overall wasteless solution. This would be a new textiles economy that is based on the principles of a circular economy.
It’s about time to create a fashion industry economy that is restorative and regenerative by design while also providing benefits to business, society, and the environment.
This would support the need for higher quality clothing that is also affordable and individualized. It would also regenerate natural capital, and design out pollution while using renewable resources and energy to make it all possible.
Steps to take to create a new textile economy that is fully regenerative using this circular economy include the following four steps:
- Phase out substances of concern and microfiber release
- ensure that material input is safe and healthy (organics, recycled) to allow cycling and to avoid negative impacts during production
- align industry efforts and coordinate innovation to create safe material cycles
- drastically reduce plastic microfiber release
- Increase clothing utilization
- transform the way clothes are designed, sold, and used to break free from their increasingly disposable nature
- scale up short-term clothing rental
- make durability more attractive
- increase clothing utilization further through brand commitments and policy
- Radically improve recycling
- transform clothing design, collection and reprocessing
- align clothing design and recycling processes
- Make effective use of resources and move to renewable inputs
- reducing need for raw materials due to higher clothing utilization and increased recycling
- raw/virgin materials, when needed, would come from fully renewable resources
Thanks to the Ellen MaCarthur Foundation and their summary and findings of A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future for the above information.
There are already many companies implementing this circular economy model. For instance, Freitag, creates bags from upcycled street banner materials, as well as compostable clothing on their website.