Green Junction: A Circular Economy by Julie Peller Ph.D.

A circular economy is a sustainable approach for the use of resources and materials. In contrast to a linear economy, where the production model is taken, made, and disposed of, a circular economy works in a way that reduces/eliminates waste and pollution. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, this takes place by “keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems,” according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. 

In 2019, the Foundation launched a project called The Jeans Redesign to produce denim jeans in line with circular economy principles. The overall goal is to create jeans that are “used more, made to be made again, and made from safe and recycled or renewable inputs.” More than half a million pairs of these jeans are now on the market and meet the requirements of durability, traceability, recyclability, and safe materials and processes. Currently, 94 companies are creating redesigned jeans, including Levi’s, Chloe, G-Star, and Marks & Spencer. 

There is excellent potential for improvement in the manufacture and disposal of blue jeans. Consumers purchase over a billion pairs of denim jeans each year. To produce a pair of jeans requires up to 7000 liters of water, toxic indigo dyes, and other chemicals. Most jeans are made in China, and the industrial waste emitted to surface waters has led to the infamous blue rivers. This is also a problem in other countries, such as India and Bangladesh, also significant producers of jeans, where very few pollution regulations exist. 

The circular economy is an economical, social and environmental opportunity to make systemic changes. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation “calls on industry and government to build on this growing momentum to rapidly transition to a circular economy for fashion at scale.” As consumers, we can support the businesses making the transition to a circular economy model, which considers the health of the earth, one another, and future generations. Levi Strauss & Co.’s CEO Chip Bergh asks consumers to wash jeans only when necessary to conserve precious water resources and extend the life of the jeans. And, if possible, recycle unwanted jeans and other clothing and textiles. 

Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work

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