A climate tech startup — an Earthshot Prize finalist — is designing a new way to reduce clothing waste

A climate tech startup — an Earthshot Prize finalist — is designing a new way to reduce clothing waste

What generally happens when clothes go out of style is giving the fashion industry a bad look.

“The fashion and textile industry is one of the most wasteful industries in the world,” said Connor Hartman, chief operating officer of Circus, a climate technology startup trying to reshape the apparel industry. “The world produces more than 100 million tons of textiles every 12 months. That’s the equivalent of the weight of one million Boeing 757 airplanes.”

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, The fashion industry is to blame About 10% of annual greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming, mainly through clothing manufacturing and transportation. This is more than emissions from international air travel and maritime shipping combined. The World Bank reports that due to the growth of cheap, trendy clothing called “fast fashion,” these emissions are expected to increase by more than 50% by 2030.

Some used clothing is exported to foreign countries, where it is piled up on the western shores of Africa, or dumped in the deserts of Chile. “Most of it ends up in landfills or incineration,” Hartman said. “There’s a garbage truck full of fashion waste being disposed of every second of every day.”

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the average piece of clothing in the United States is now worn only seven times, and worldwide less than 1% of textile waste is recycled into textiles.

This is because most of our clothes are a blend of cotton and polyester (basically plastic), making them almost impossible to recycle. But at an experimental facility in Danville, Virginia — once a bustling textile and tobacco hub — a circus team has cracked the code, inventing a way to separate the two through a chemical process.

“Our process is, for lack of a better term, a pressure cooker,” Hartman said. “It’s a very fancy Insta bowl.”

The chemical reaction causes the polyester to liquefy, while the cotton remains intact. The liquid polyester is converted into plastic flakes, and both materials can then be used to make new clothing.

Circ, an Earthshot Award finalist, has found a solution to the significant environmental waste and pollution generated by the clothing industry, by recycling plastic from cotton and polyester clothing.

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Circ initially focused on converting tobacco leaves into biofuel, then repurposed the technology to learn how to recycle clothing made from cotton and polyester. “It took our science team a few weeks to put the pieces together,” Hartmann said. “We launched the first consumer products derived from cotton and polyester waste. It was a four-piece collection designed by Zara.”

Circ is also partnered with Patagonia, is backed by Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures, and has now attracted the attention of the future King of England. Circ is a finalist for Earthshot’s annual $1.2 million prize Submitted by Prince William To solutions to the planet’s most pressing environmental problems.

“To get this level of recognition for a solution that we know will be the future is really inspiring for us,” Hartman said.

Circ plans to open its first industrial-scale factory by 2026, and replicate it around the world, recycling billions of clothing items.

Hartman said his hope is to end the disposal or burning of clothing: “Absolutely, because we have all the clothes we need, to make all the clothes we will ever need.”

The Earthshot Awards will be presented on Tuesday at a ceremony in Singapore. The event will be broadcast live on Youtube.

(tags for translation) Fashion

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