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Trimming Back Fashion’s Waste Problem: Is Protective Policy the Answer?

Fashion needs to rethink its take-make-dispose model.

With the COVID-19-stalled supply chains exacerbating the millions of tons of textile waste produced every year, keeping clothing out of the landfill has become more vital than ever.

In this episode of the Sustaining Voices podcast, Sourcing Journal reporter Jasmin Malik Chua speaks with Gwen Cunningham, lead of the Circle Textiles program at Circle Economy, and Jonas Eder-Hansen, public affairs director at Global Fashion Agenda, about what the industry needs to do to prevent textiles from becoming waste, the close interrelationship between consumption and disposal practices and why investing in recycling alone isn’t the answer.

“We’ve seen the consumer, between 2007 and 2014, buying 60 percent more and keeping the clothing for half as long as they used to,” Cunningham said. “And so these materials are becoming post-consumer quicker than ever before.”

While textile waste can be broadly categorized into two streams—pre-consumer and post-consumer—tackling the problem requires a multi-pronged approach. Waste is a symptom of an issue that requires new design approaches, life-extending business models such as repair and resale, and beefed-up infrastructure for end-of-life management.

Policy, too, isn’t emphasized in discussions nearly enough.

“I think the role of policymakers in actually addressing textile waste is something that hasn’t really been accounted for,” Eder-Hansen said. “The ability to actually engage in constructive dialogue with policymakers is something that many brands and retailers have shied away from because policymakers are seen as [imposing] further regulation. But if you turn that around, policymakers can also help accelerate and shift the transition to the circular economy, including also scaling up some of those technologies that are necessary to address textile waste.”

Sourcing Journal’s Sustaining Voices celebrates the efforts the apparel industry is making toward securing a more environmentally responsible future through creative innovations, scalable solutions and forward-thinking initiatives that are spinning intent into action.

See more of our Sustaining Voices honorees and their stories, here.