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Moves are underway by the fashion sector to design products with raw materials that can feed into a circular economy, but the problem of recycling potentially hazardous chemicals is often overlooked. The development of the circular economy is not simply about using less or recycling more – it’s largely about keeping existing products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times.

Ultimately this is expected to reduce resource consumption – and overconsumption, as is the case in the glass and steel industry where an estimated 50 per cent of all new steel is now derived from scrap and 75 per cent of all glass is said to be recycled. But the problem for chemicals is that unlike steel and glass, recycling requires modifications to molecular bonds. This inherently changes the nature of the product itself, is more challenging and energy intensive to pursue, and makes chemicals more difficult to separate and extract from consumer goods.

Yet without the potential for hazardous chemicals to be re-used or removed safely from these products, the circular economy in industries such as textiles is likely to remain a huge challenge.

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