Styles are always evolving. With every new fad comes more waste and pollution as we throw out our old clothes and use copious amounts of chemicals and water to create new ones. Some say a “circular economy,” in which resources are recycled instead of discarded, is the answer to our fashion woes. The cover story in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, explores its pitfalls and potential.
In the first part of this two-part story, Melody Bomgardner, a senior editor at C&EN, explains why popular product take-back programs are not enough to develop a sustainable circular economy. Critics of the textile industry don’t just want to see materials being reused: Their goal is to prevent pollution starting at the manufacturing site. With this in mind, some companies are starting to replace hazardous substances used to produce their clothes so that they are safer to make and ultimately to recycle. These new manufacturing processes will take a lot of time and money to perfect, but the payoff will be considerable for the environment and businesses alike.
In the second part of this story, Alex Scott, a senior editor at C&EN, discusses the issues that have arisen for the European Union as it tries to move toward implementing a circular economy. In a classic matchup, the chemical industry and environmental activists are butting heads over how the circular economy should function. The chemical industry believes the inclusion or exclusion of certain substances from the closed-loop recycling system should be decided on a case-by-case basis, but activists want tough regulation of chemicals from the get-go.