Accelerating Circularity Project Identifies Future Workforce Opportunities In The Circular Economy

WILMINGTON, Del.  — March 11, 2022 — The Accelerating Circularity Project (ACP) commissioned research and a white paper on the potential workforce opportunities created as we shift from a linear business model to a circular one of textiles-to-textiles recycling. The mission of ACP is to establish systems that will use the embedded value and resources in existing textiles for new products, reducing the 17 million tons in the USA1 and 5 million tons in Europe of post-consumer waste2  that goes to landfills annually. Thus, supporting the reduction of the industry’s environmental impacts.

“Through research and stakeholder participation, our report aims to show how the USA workforce can emerge stronger while the entities investing in textile circularity can take advantage of an evolving industry,” shared Karla Magruder, founder and president of ACP. “Sustainability has three pillars: environmental, economic, and social. ACP is focused on demonstrating and quantifying the environmental and economic impact through trials that are in progress. Research on future employment is an important social aspect of the circular economy that warranted addressing.”

As the textile recycling sector grows as part of the circular economy, more workers will be needed to collect, sort, and process recyclables. The value chain for Textile Reuse & Resale model is already functioning, profitable, and growing fast:

  • According to Thredup/Boston Consulting Group, the vintage & resale market was valued at $28 billion in 2020 and is forecast to grow to $64 billion by 20243
  • The US Census Bureau identified over 19,200 retail locations and a workforce of over 201,0004

The Textile-to-Textile recycling model is still evolving and will offer some longer-term strategic advantages that the reuse/resale marketing does not.  Examples include:

  • No competition with new fashion retail sector/employment5
  • Potential to support the onshoring and therefore the growth of the existing workforce6
  • Job creation to meet anticipated $40.3 billion in eco-fiber demand by 20277

Sorting is a critical function although today it is generally considered an entry-level, unskilled job with minimum compensation and at the same time, it is physically demanding. The reuse/resale market relies on intense sorting to generate income through the grading of reusable items. While some technologies are in development and can automate specific parts of the sorting process, they are not fully functioning. Many of those interviewed for this study believe sorting will remain a combination of automated and manual labor.

The post-consumer textile collection has both a workforce as well as an infrastructure development opportunity to make the consumer donation of unwanted clothing more convenient and to maximize the diversion from landfills. A 2020 study by the European Apparel and Textile Confederation (EURATEX) estimates that about 20 jobs can be created for every 1000 metric tons of textiles collected, sorted, and recycled in the European Union8.

Many of the stakeholders interviewed for this study commented that policy and legislation can also be critical in empowering job creation and the establishment of a circular economy.

For more information, please sign up for a webinar on March 24 at 11 am EST (U.S. and Canada)

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4 U.S. Census Bureau, All Sectors: County Business Patterns, including ZIP Code Business Patterns, by Legal Form of Organization and Employment Size Class for the U.S., States, and Selected Geographies (2019)

5 Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future (2017)

6 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Labor market consequences of a transition to a circular economy (2020)

7 Circular Fashion Summit, Circular Fashion Report 2020: Year Zero (2020)

8 EURATEX, ReHubs: A joint initiative for industrial upcycling of textile waste & circular materials (2020)

Posted: March 11, 2022

Source: Accelerating Circularity