‘Premature Circular Economy Threatens Detox Campaign’

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Environmental NGO, Greenpeace, has warned that its Detox campaign efforts could be ruined by a premature circular economy. The NGO's report – Fashion at the crossroads – calls for alternatives to the current material-intensive business model and offers a critical response to the circular economy idea promoted by large global brands.

Since 2011, the Greenpeace Detox campaign has been calling on major brands to phase out 11 chemical classes of concern, by 2020. The report says that without eliminating the use and releases of harmful chemicals from production chains, "the circular dream could well become a toxic recirculation nightmare."

It goes on to say that this is also a "prerequisite for high quality circularity, by ensuring that clean materials are available for recycling".

"However, the current rates of excessive production and consumption in the industry as a whole are probably outweighing any gains that are being made," it continues. Speaking at the launch of the report at Milan Fashion Week, Greenpeace Italy senior corporate strategist, Chiara Campione, said that "an effective six year-long effort to reduce hazardous chemicals from the textile global supply chain could be ruined by a premature circular economy, where recycling happens before detoxing processes and materials occur. While the overall growing intensity of production continues to pose a serious threat to the environment."

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She also criticised a report by the Global Fashion Agenda – a sustainability initiative run by the Danish Fashion Institute, which was created by the Danish fashion industry. The Pulse report, which was presented at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit earlier this year, envisions a circular future for the fashion industry.

This she said, would "rely even more on environmentally harmful polyester and still seeks growth in material output without questioning the overproduction, overconsumption and the subsequent decrease in the quality and longevity of our clothes."

Jonas Eder-Hansen, chief content adviser for Global Fashion Agenda, which organised the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, said the Pulse report aimed to "take the pulse on where the industry stands in terms of sustainability along the whole value chain and present a broad landscape of levers for improvement", but did not "dive deep on any of the topics".

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He added that the Global Fashion Agenda was working actively on the circular economy through partnerships, including the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's Circular Fibres Initiative. "This work encompasses a systemic approach to circularity from a design, reuse and recycling perspective and the primary focus is placed on closing the loop on the fashion industry by finding solutions to tackle textile waste, while being aware that the circular economy agenda is much broader," he said.

Industry response

Textiles trade association, Euratex, is collecting a hundred business cases demonstrating the circular economy in textile manufacturing. Euratex manager of sustainable businesses, Mauro Scalia, said that the European textile and apparel industry had "several pioneering examples of reusing or recycling materials while guaranteeing safety, both in SMEs and in large companies". This "knowledge and potential shall be scaled up", he added.

A greater demand for recycled materials, he said, would help further research, improvements and lower costs. He added that "the circular economy is already being addressed by EU authorities and stakeholders; this shall continue, constructively, and we believe that it would benefit from improved test methods and cost-effective detection technologies."

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The European Commission has published a roadmap setting out the actions it plans to take, to address the interface between legislation on chemicals, products and waste. This will feed into its plans for a circular economy and the future EU strategy for a non-toxic environment. 

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