This opinion piece is part one of Lykke Advice’s new series exploring keystone topics in Green European legislation and policy for a sustainable future.
Tackling the impact of textile production and waste is considered a priority for the EU, as part of its effort to shift toward a circular economy. Water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions contribute the most to the accumulation of textile waste. According to the European Parliament, every year, Europeans consume 26 kilos of textiles and discard around 11 kilos – predominantly clothes, footwear, and household textiles.. Used textiles could be donated or recycled, however, in reality, 87% of them are thrown away, incinerated, or landfilled. In the EU, the scale of textile waste is more problematic than ever. It has been the subject of much debate about the best way to create a multidimensional sustainable model of textile production fit for the environment, economy, and people.
Textile waste policy in the EU
In 2018, the EU updated the Waste Framework Directive, inviting member states to encourage the reuse and repair of textiles and to set up separate collection schemes for textile products (among other products) by 2025. Moreover, in the European Parliament, an own-initiative report was prepared and adopted in February 2021 on the Commission’s New Circular Economy Action Plan. The Parliament made over 130 policy recommendations for supplementary actions to achieve the ambitious goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 while creating a sustainable, completely circular model for Europe. The resolution also mentions tighter recycling rules and binding agreement targets for materials use and consumption by 2030, measures to fight against microplastic pollution, and stricter standards on water use. As part of the Action Plan, in March 2022, the European Commission presented a new EU Strategy for Sustainable Textiles – ensuring that textiles are created to be more durable, repairable, reusable, and recyclable, tackling fast fashion and stimulating innovation within the sector. The new strategy includes several key points for circular textiles, such as a regulation on new ecodesign requirements for textiles to increase the sustainability of clothing; information requirements and a Digital Product Passport on the environmental sustainability characteristics of products and their production processes and a future legislative initiative on Green Claims to fight greenwashing. Making the producers responsible for their waste is also a key point underlined by the proposal that could significantly reduce textile waste generation. The Commission will propose harmonised rules on the extended producer responsibility rules (EPR) for textiles, including an eco-modulation of fees. The goal is to reinforce circularity principles while creating value for the collection, sorting, and reuse of clothing.
Revision of upcoming laws to tackle textile waste
The Commission’s agenda for the upcoming years is fully booked. In 2023, the Waste Framework Directive will be updated with the harmonised EU rules for EPR for textiles. The framework initially set the rules and establishing key definitions for waste, recycling and recovery while ensuring efficient waste management from the beginning to the disposal. The targets for textile re-use and the recycling of municipal waste will also be reviewed as a result of municipal waste generation increasing. The Commission is also considering including specific textile collection requirements for households. For now, the framework will impose a mandatory separate collection of textile waste by 2024.
The revision of the EU Waste Shipment directive is also on the agenda for 2023. In 2020, the EU exported 32.7 million tonnes of waste to non-EU countries, which is 75% more than in 2004. As for textiles, 6.5% of the waste is exported to OECD countries compared to 93.5% to non-OECD countries. Therefore, the upcoming revision aims to have stricter rules on waste management exports, improving the circulation of the recycled and reused waste system, as well as taking stronger actions against illegal waste shipments. As for textile waste more specifically, the revision will explore the establishment of clear criteria to prevent textile waste from being falsely exported as used goods outside OECD countries, where they are most likely to create environmental and health damages.
From textile waste to value: businesses opportunities
Updating and revising the current policies are multibenifial. First, it supports the transition to a circular economy by providing a roadmap, ensuring compliance, and giving guidance for decision-making. Secondly, it creates business opportunities to develop circular projects that are attractive to the private sector. The European Union is providing several funding programs such as the European Structural and Investment Funds, Horizon 2020 and the LIFE program. However, textile waste could be perceived as unattractive for investors, for both businesses and the financial sector, especially for SMEs looking to finance their projects due to a misperception and assessment of risks. In 2017, the European Commission launched the Circular Economy Finance Support Platform to support and develop new financial instruments for circular economy projects supported by experts coming from the Commission, EIB, National Promotional Banks and institutional investors. With funding opportunities available and supported by technical advice from experts, many projects have emerged to support the transition to a free textile waste environment.
In line with the EU Green Deal and waste textile policy, one, out of many examples of business’ circular projects is the Euratex Recycling Hubs (Rehubs). The initiative aims to create global cooperation and collaboration across the textile value chain. It will transform old textiles into usable resources and push businesses toward circularity by finding alternatives to heavy chemical consumption and unsustainable trends in the production of new fibres and garments, retail and distribution, textile waste collection, sorting and recycling. The strength of this initiative comes from the diversity of people joining, from businesses, researchers and academics to national associations. The initiative is focusing on the creation of a European textile recycling map to recycle fibre-to-fibre 2.5 million tonnes of textile waste by 2030 while launching several projects to transform textile waste into feedstock, expand the adoption of mechanically recycled fibres and thermos-mechanical textiles recycling in the value chain, create capsule collection with post-consumer recycled products.
A significant transformation is needed to adequately create a large and sustainable industry that turns textile waste into value. The upcoming revisions and policies are aiming to shift toward a fully circular economy through the reduction of over-consumption, the extension of product lifetime, and the reduction of environmental pollution through ecodesign. While funding opportunities sources are ensuring businesses that their innovative circular projects can get the resources needed to unlock scalable solutions tackling the burden of textile waste. Lykke Advice is a boutique consultancy with experience guiding companies and associations through the latest developments in European Institutions and ensuring your voice is heard in the legislative process. If you wish to learn more about European sustainability policy, the EU Circular Economy Action Plan, or other topics, then do not hesitate to get in touch.