Moving towards the circular economy- the experts speak

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with some of the movers and shakers of the sustainable fashion industry as part of this year’s Vivid Ideas Exchange. I heard from a truly marvellous group of creative women who are disrupting the fashion industry as we know it in search of a more thoughtful, sustainable and in particular, less wasteful industry. The theme of the presentation was on the importance of transitioning from a linear, take, make and discard model of production and consumption to a more positive, regenerative circular system. The circular economy, as the presenters argued, is a system where waste becomes obsolete, it is literally designed out of the system.

Studying environmental politics as part of my postgraduate studies means that I spend a significant amount of time listening to academics who are not particularly hopeful about the state of our planet. Therefore, it was quite refreshing listening to a group of entrepreneurs, designers and writers working in the sustainable fashion industry that had a more uplifting perspective. One of the industry powerhouses that was present at the event was Clare Press, sustainability editor at Vouge.

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Clare spoke passionately about the need to change our current patterns of consumption.She argued that on average a person only wears a garment between 4 to 10 times before throwing it away. The majority of these clothes end up in landfill and due to the dyes and toxins used in the manufacturing of most garments it can take on average 200 hundred years for an article of clothing to biodegrade. Furthermore in 2015 less than 1% of clothes were recycled into new garments. Although many of us donate our clothes to charities and op-shops less than 15% of clothes given to op-shops are actually in good enough condition to sell. Consequently, the fashion industry is enormously wasteful.

Today’s system of production and consumption is prefaced on a model of deliberate obsolescence. We are not encouraged to ‘fix’ or treasure the things we own but enjoy them for a short period of time and then replace them.

The idea of the circular economy by contrast, is one in which there is no end of life to the clothes we wear. Clare argued that we should move from considering ourselves as consumers but rather as makers, sharers, borrowers and embrace an upcycle system. She certainly has a point, businesses like Uber and Airbnb enable people to share both their cars and homes with strangers, why then should sharing our clothes be any different? In the course of her speech Clare confessed that the stunning designer jacket she was wearing was not in fact hers but rather she had rented it through one such system. This struck me as rather brilliant idea. After all I can’t be the first to have ever bought a dress or outfit for a particular occasion only for it to end up in the abyss of my wardrobe, seldom ever to see the light of day again.

Also present was Tonia Bastyan, creator of Chalk Re-Design an organisation that educates and inspires the apparel industry to become conscious global leaders. Tonia left the fashion industry as we know it to create a kinder one after becoming disillusioned with the level of waste and lack of value and connection in today’s conventional fashion world.

Tonia argued that a designer in a major fashion house has no connection with their fabric or the people that make the raw materials that go into their designs. We need to restore a fibre to hanger mentality, simplify our supply chains and restore a sense of meaning and connection with both our clothes and consumers, she argued.  Tonia also reiterated the idea that we need to dramatically change our approach to waste and recycling, in a circular economy there should be no end of life by a process of constant rejuvenation.

In reference to this idea Tonia spoke of her own brand Conscious Swim, an ethical children’s swimwear brand that uses econyl, a recycled material made from fishing nets. In doing so Tonia said she hopes to inspire and educate children to think about waste.

Tonia also argued that whilst Individuals and consumers certainly have significant power to drive change, institutional and macro level commitment is also vital in securing a sustainable future. How fabulous would it be, she asked, if nippers decided to exclusively use recycled material in their swimwear?  Or school uniforms for that matter? This is certainly an excellent point. The problem with fast fashion and waste production is a systemic and institutional one and therefore requires an institutional response. “creating a community of change makers is crucial” were the words reiterated by Ellen MacArthur, an advocate for the circular economy.

The presenters argued that shifting mindsets is a priority and that we must nurture the belief that there are other ways to do things, we must disrupt the damaging system of linear economics and make way for a more positive, regenerative circular system.

 

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Every day things we can all do to help the effects of climate change

Climate change is among one of the most important issues for young people in Australia according to the Australian Youth Representative Consultation Report. This is no great surprise, sometimes it can feel as though we are only one mere disaster movie away from a true apocalypse.  Although it may seem tempting, we should not wallow in despair and lament the seemingly inept nature of our government and bureaucracy to enact sensible legislation on climate change. Time is of the essence and we must act now.

Although the government should certainly not be let of the hook, there are in fact many things that we as individuals and consumers can do in our every day lives that have a significant environmental impact.

Reduce your single use items

This is a pretty obvious one but it’s worth mentioning anyway. We use and  throw away an exponential amount of waste and a lot of it is completely unnecessary. Coffee cups, water bottles and plastic bags, we use a tremendous amount of these products and most of them are non recyclable. By 2050 it is estimated that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember to bring your own coffee cup, water bottle and reusable grocery bag but forming these types of habits are extremely important in mitigating the levels of waste we produce. Furthermore we shouldn’t underestimate the power we have as consumers, if enough of us demand more of businesses then they will have little choice but to act.

replace some of your household items

One thing that doesn’t spring instantly to mind when looking to cut back on waste is toiletries, but these are things nearly all of us use in vast quantities are are largely non recyclable. In the US alone one billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown away every year creating 50 million pounds of waste annually.  You can help make the world a little greener by switching to a non-toxic, silicone ISSA or bamboo based toothbrush.

Sanitary items also come with an exceptional amount of plastic and as women we go through an exorbitant amount of them over the course of our lives. Switching to a mensural cup can dramatically help reduce your level of plastic waste.

Eat less meat and dairy

Before you role your eyes I’m not suggesting a universal conversion to veganism, I’m a little more realistic then that. However the agricultural sector is highly pollutive, in fact more so than the transport sector. There are 1.5 billion cows on earth, each one produces 65 gallons of methane a day as they digest their food. Methane is a highly potent green house gas and traps 25% more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Furthermore enormous sects of land need to be cleared for the animals to graze on and to grow crops to feed the animals. In fact one third of our planet is now used for livestock. The clearing of land for livestock is a major cause of deforestation. This subsequently causes further problems as trees naturally absorb CO2.  Globally it is believed that the agricultural industry contributes to 15% of green house gas emissions.

In Australia and elsewhere in the developed world we consume exorbitant amounts of meat far more than is deemed necessary for our health. If we are to mitigate the more extreme effects of climate change we need to embrace something of a lifestyle change and that incudes consuming less meat and dairy.

Be mindful of where your clothes come from.

This one might take some people slightly off guard, the fashion industry is actually the second most pollutive in the world, right behind oil. This is primarily related to the emissions that are transmitted by the shipping of garments and raw materials from one continent to another across different stages of the supply chain.

Clothes today are not necessary designed to be particularly durable. With a surplus of affordable options available there is little incentive for us to keep our clothes for years and years. Subsequently 4 billion pounds of textile waste is put into landfill each year.  The chemicals used in the production of garments also mean that it can take up to 2 hundred years for a t-shirt to biodegrade.

However it’s not all doom and gloom, there is now a variety of purposefully designed sustainable fashion brands and online retailers who champion the idea of ethical fashion.  There are also several independent not for profit groups which seek to inform and educate consumers on which companies are seeking to lessen their environmental impact.Organisations such as Good On You, have a diligent team of researches who provide information to consumers on how companies are performing in terms of environmental impact, labour rights and animal welfare. Their website and app is a plentiful source of information for consumers who are in doubt of where to shop.  The aptly named ethi is an online retailer which only sells ethically produced clothing. Furthermore there are several companies and fashion brands which are embracing the idea of sustainability. Nudie Jeans Co offer special repair shops in which customers can bring in their jeans for a free fix up. If however they decide they no longer want to keep their garments customers can donate or hand them in to be recycled through the companies own recyclable program.