Oxfam Ireland Homepage
  • 2 min read
  • Published: 30th January 2020
  • Written by Joanne O'Connor

Support sustainability by developing the circular economy

The corporate world has a huge impact on sustainability. Every decision can affect the most vulnerable people and ecosystems, threatening livelihoods and exacerbating poverty. For example, the fashion industry has shaped our attitude to clothes. A combination of overconsumption and a lack of regulation means we are buying vast amounts of low-quality textiles. Not only are these garments unfit for long-term use, they cannot be recycled, resulting in a worldwide waste problem that is hugely detrimental to the environment. Meanwhile, the wages and working conditions of mostly female textile workers in countries like Bangladesh often fall well below basic human rights standards.

Textiles have been identified as one of the waste streams with the highest untapped potential to implement circular practices. Throwaway fashion is unsustainable and is stretching the planet’s resources beyond its limits. Every year, Irish people dump 225,000 tonnes of clothing – a huge waste of water and energy considering that it would take 13 years to drink the amount of water needed to make one t-shirt and one pair of jeans.

The circular economy concept brings a holistic perspective to the lifespan of a product from design, material choice, sustainable production processes, product use, reuse and recycling. Circularity benefits the environment and can go some way in helping to address climate change. It also has the potential to generate innovative and sustainable economic opportunities.

The aim is to move past the current take-make-waste extractive industrial model using three key principles:

  1. Designing waste and pollution out of the lifecycle of a product
  2. Keeping products and material in use
  3. Reviving natural systems

Oxfam Ireland works with a wide range of companies committed to sustainability – these business partnerships directly improve the lives of millions of people worldwide by making it easier to keep excess stock out of landfills. However, a lot more needs to be done to develop the potential of the circular economy.

To that end, Oxfam Ireland is calling on the next government to: 

  • Create a textiles action plan for the textiles industry that contains measures on waste prevention that adopts key legislative frameworks such as the EU waste hierarchy. The plan should also ensure that retailers are signatories to the UN Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action.
  • Offer support solutions to incentivise circular practices, especially involving social enterprises, including reducing VAT for services that prolong a product’s life such as repair, resale or specialised washing; work to make secondary raw materials more financially viable in comparison to virgin raw materials to incentivise their use, and dedicate research and funding to secondary raw material so as to optimise its quality and longevity.
  • Design and implement policy guidelines to encourage innovation. A lifecycle assessment can assist with policy design as it can be used to determine the relevant measures to reduce environmental impact.
  • Insist on transparency in the textile chain so that consumers are aware of where and under what conditions their clothes are made. This includes making consumers aware of where donated clothing products end up.
  • Implement the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) framework. Stemming from the European Waste Framework directive, this framework can be used to implement the regulatory requirement to separately collect textiles by 2025.