Conversations around fashion have also become synonymous with conversations around sustainability. While fashion, of course, would like to be more eco-conscious, the pathway to that isn’t overnight. Many companies have implemented progress plans to get their supply chains and products to be mostly sustainable within the next five to ten years.
There’s still the question of how do you have sustainability and growth? A recent report by Global Fashion Agenda revealed that the fashion industry can be 80 percent sustainable by 2030 with increased investment in existing recycling technologies and infrastructures.
Currently, the fashion industry is on track to overshoot its 1.5-degree pathway target almost twofold, with emissions of 2.1 billion tons of CO2 equivalents in 2030, compared to the 1.1 billion tons required to stay on the pathway. Ways to reduce these emissions include scaling circularity, adopting circular design principles, extending the use-life of products and materials, and ensuring post-life that components break down and are reused or recycled into future items.
Recycling happens for less than 1 percent of textile waste into new fibers or clothing. Textile recycling is one big part of the circulatory picture that can get the fashion industry to be 80 percent sustainable by 2030. The issue is these recycling technologies would need to be fully scaled to get to that 80 percent goal. Technologies to deliver recycling across color cotton, cellulosics, synthetic fabrics, and solutions for blended fibers are all burgeoning.
The big challenge is providing conditions for scaling, which include collection and sorting infrastructure, and investment in the recycling sector to scale up capacity. The informal waste management sector also needs regulation and formalization. Moving from downcycling to recycling will greatly aid the fashion industry toward sustainability.
Manufacturing facilities often incinerate cotton waste for energy. The fashion industry needs to move away from this, and access to affordable, clean alternative fuels needs to be developed to shift incentives toward recycling and away from incineration. Bangladesh, one of the largest manufacturers of apparel, will need infrastructure investment and policy reform to achieve this.
Recycling capacity is also still very small in many manufacturing markets. The good news is that the post-industrial textile waste offers volumes of quality, consistent textile feedstock, making it more recyclable than post-use waste. To attract investment to scale this capacity, investors and recycles need greater transparency that this feedstock exists and can be reliably channeled toward recycling.
Global Fashion Agenda found that there are three key components beyond post-production recycling that are a priority for pre-completive action, including standardized consumer labeling, infrastructure for collection and shorting, and shared logistics.
In addition, there also needs to be a reduction in the use of virgin materials. Material production contributes 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, with oil-consuming textiles the biggest contributor. While the technology to guide the fashion industry toward a more sustainable future is there, the infrastructure needs to be put in place.
Transitioning to a circular economy is a win-win for both fashion and the environment. Progress is slow but steady.