At the most basic level, circularity means taking every single step of a product’s life into consideration and ensuring that it will stay out of the landfill forever.
The Linear System: Take, Make, Waste
Circularity was created in direct response to the current linear system of production. In a linear system, products are mass produced cheaply with virgin materials, with the vast majority ending up in the landfill. Unfortunately, this extends beyond the finished products themselves. Millions of pounds of excess materials are created during production, often going straight to the landfill without ever seeing the light of day.
Fast fashion is the biggest culprit, with companies generating a staggering amount of cheap goods that are tossed to make room for the latest trend. The negative impact on our climate is profound, with millions of tons of pollutants entering our atmosphere and oceans every year.Enter the circular system. Within a circular system, used, damaged, and excess materials and products are diverted away from the landfill and returned to the supply chain. How they’re returned can take a few different forms depending on the condition of the materials.
Below, we’ve outlined the key ways materials are kept out of the landfill.
Zero Waste to EnergyWhen it comes to circularity, waste-to-energy is the last option for a product when it’s truly at the end of it’s life — aka — when it can no longer be made into a sellable product. Waste is incinerated and turned into steam, which is then converted into electricity. The result is far fewer emissions than if the material was landfilled or burned into our atmosphere.
DowncyclingWhen materials are at the end of their life and no longer structurally sound enough for recycling, they can still be transformed into something that can extend its life for many decades. In many cases, damaged and excess materials can be shredded and used during construction for insulation, building foundations, and during the creation of roads.
Plastic to Fiber RecyclingYou may have seen brands promoting clothing made from plastic bottles. Many companies have jumped on this bandwagon, from the NBA to WalMart. Plastic bottles are broken down to a molecular level and then reformed into spinnable fibers. While this is preferable to using virgin materials, it often means that the product's fibers will not be strong enough to be recycled into fibers again.
High-quality pre- and post-consumer excess materials (think spools of fabric or leather offcuts), can be collected and used to make new products instead of being tossed (the most common outcome). Additionally, damaged and unsellable products can be deconstructed and turned into new products. This is called upcycling, and it is the lowest-impact option for reuse. Check out our latest upcycling project with Lo & Sons.
Fiber to Fiber RecyclingIn the apparel world, fiber-to-fiber recycling will be the most impactful way to ensure clothing stays out of the landfill forever. Circular apparel uses fibers that can be recycled into virgin-quality fibers and made into new clothes endlessly. Currently, there is no infrastructure to do this in the US. Looptworks is planning to open the first fiber-to-fiber recycling in the country, with a vision to serve as a hub for sustainable textile production.
Do you work for a business with excess textiles? Our partnerships team would love to hear from you! Head on over to our Partnerships page to let us know how we can help.