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The textiles industry provides high levels of employment, foreign exchange revenue and products essential to human welfare. It employs over 300 million people, many of them women. Clothing production has approximately doubled in the last 15 years, while the number of times a garment is worn before being discarded has decreased 36%.

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The textile industry’s impact on the climate accounts for approximately 3.3 billion mT emitted GHGs per year while consuming around 215 trillion litres of water.

The world is producing and consuming more textiles than ever before. The current very low re-use and recycling rates mean that more textiles are also being thrown away than ever before. This requires ever more land, water and fossil fuels, and leads to increasing pollution of the air, water and soil. It also means a considerate value loss – globally, the annual cost to consumers of throwing out clothing that they could continue to wear is estimated at $460 billion.

A shift to circular models provides a critical tool in delivering sustainability for the industry – and will require changes at each stage in the value chain, involving players of all sizes and market segments.

The use of hazardous substances in textile processing have to be eliminated, and resources have to be used much more effectively, with a shift away from fossil fuels towards renewable sources of energy and materials. The life span of clothing and other textile products have to be considerably increased, along with radically improved recycling when materials reach their end-of-life. Sustainable and circular textiles thus require entirely new ways of doing business, but will deliver an industry that benefits business, society and the environment.

Priority needs to move towards a sustainable and circular textile value chain are:

  • Stronger governance and policies that incentivize new innovative business models, increase textile utilization and reduce consumption (e.g. fiscal policy, sustainable public procurement, regulations), level the playing field through product design requirements and production standards, and enable an inclusive and just transition.
  • Collaboration & finance in terms of providing education, skills and support for scaling of circular and sustainable business models and solutions, leveraging funding from financial institutions, and providing spaces for government collaboration.
  • Changes in consumption habits through campaigns, advertising and consumer information tools such as labels, building acceptance for product longevity that reduces consumption and instilling habits to reduce climate impacts of garment care.

Useful resources


Click below to learn about UNEP experience in building circularity in the textile value chain: