More than recycling
The Market - MU Sustainable Innovation

Is the circular economy just recycling?

Someone can be inclined to adhere to this definition, especially if we think of the package approved by the European Parliament in April 2018, which sets the target of recycling 65% of municipal waste by 2035 and 70% of packaging by 2030.


Indeed, the circular economy is much more than recycling. It is a revolutionary approach that challenges the “linear” economic model that has dominated the economy in the 20th century, centered on the consumption of resources with little interest in the efficient use of resources and in the planning of “end” management life ”of the products. The circular approach stimulates new business models, new supply chains, new professional skills, and competences.


Manufacturers play a critical role and can be an engine of change in the implementation of the principles of the circular economy.

Resources-efficient technologies and renewable materials are beneficial to profits and the planet alike. Investing in energy from renewable sources and reducing and recycling waste has sound economic rationality.

A role that companies begin to interpret in the fashion supply chain searching for new and innovative solutions and new business models.


The use of materials from renewable sources is a strong trend, several brands, especially in the sportswear segment, have committed to using man-made fibers from recycled sources.

The life of garments in consumers’ wardrobes has become shorter and shorter in the past decades. Today we see the rise of a change in attitude by the same young people who have been the heralds of disposable clothing in the past.

The repair, rental, and reuse of garments are gaining acceptance by consumers, and the base for new business models. 


Burning unsold items that used to be a brands’ practice, especially in the “exclusive” segment, has become illegal in some countries; France is one of them. Why burning an item produced at the cost of so much energy and effort and made with precious materials? It is suitable for the planet – but also for profits- to find better solutions to recover the economic value of materials.

New solutions that call for the development of new value chains capable of giving products a new life.


Is it exaggerated to call all this a revolution?

Certainly not. It is a revolution that textile companies cannot make on their own and without new technologies. The revolution can succeed only relying on an integrated textile and fashion value chain, powered by waste-reducing technologies, green chemicals, and extended to waste collectors and recyclers.

Testing laboratories and transparent certification systems are also part of the equation, to escape the risk of greenwashing-based unfair competition.


The COVID-19 crisis provides further evidence of the need for the implementation of circular economy principles.

Can we imagine a post-coronavirus re-start without proper recycling, for example, of disposable masks?

The issue is already on the table, urged by the exponential increase in waste that disposable masks and other personal protective equipment can generate. Durability and end-of-life management must be planned right from the design stage of the items.

We are talking about millions of masks used every month in each country: the issue is far from theoretical.