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Roadmap to Circularity

August 26, 2020

Rethinking the linear take-make-use-dispose approach

For decades the fashion industry has followed a linear take-make-use-dispose approach. This way, along each production step, raw materials are converted into garments using energy, water, and chemicals with only a single-use in mind. 

Example of linear textile flow from fibre feedstock to garment (Leather not included in this example).

Following this linear path, large amounts of non-renewable resources that go into making a garment will find their end-of-cycle after a short period. The resources used can potentially contribute to the air and water pollution during their conversion stages when processes are not properly managed. In this linear approach, garments will be discarded after a very short life-cycle to end up in a landfill or incinerated, contributing to the global waste and pollution problem.

To keep up with the garments demand of a growing population, we need to support the transition from a linear take-make-use-dispose approach to a circular one. Challenging linear production processes, designing at all stages products following a waste management hierarchy(1).

Described by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation as a circular economy it is based on three principles: design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use and regenerate natural systems(2). In this type of economy, the ‘waste’ is designed to be recovered and will become a raw material, therefore a critical part of the textile materials flow. A circular approach not only has the potential to reduce the consumption of resources such as energy, water, and chemical footprint associated with the fashion industry but also generate new feedstock sources to supply the growing demand of the industry. 

Example of circular textile flow from fibre feedstock to garment - (Leather not included.)

A circular production approach moves to optimised systems that recover and valorise all possible resources.  To do so requires a deep understanding of the chemistry and its related impacts so that the chemistry becomes an enabler for recovering materials and resources for the production process. 

The ZDHC Foundation with its expertise in chemistry wants to enable, support and encourage efforts to optimise resources along each production stage in the fashion value chain. To do so, we are collaborating with other organisations working on circularity, besides expanding our tools to start addressing chemical recovery.

The following areas are where we believe our chemical expertise can support a circular approach:


  • Preventing banned hazardous chemistry from entering the circular value chain through the use of ZDHC Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (ZDHC MRSL) and the Chemical Module of the ZDHC Gateway. 
  • Facilitate understanding of the principles of sustainable chemistry, so fibres and materials can be designed with the intent to become fibre feedstock, once garments have reached their end-of-life.


  • Support traceability and transparency, such as the policy requirements of the ZDHC CMS Framework. These efforts could lead to a bill of substances.
  • Keep providing guidance on expected recovery of chemicals from production processes such as the one provided in the Man-Made Cellulosic Fibres Guidance on sulphur and sodium sulphate recovery. 


  • Enable a transition, whenever possible, from output control and remediation approach to the valorisation of output streams. For example, build programmes that encourage water reuse, basic chemical recovery and that of potentially valuable materials from waste and sludge. 

In the short-mid term, we will start/continue our work on the following areas:

1  Directive 2008/98/EC on waste (Waste Framework Directive)
2 Ellen MacArthur Foundation report A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning fashion's future