The EU Strategy for sustainable and circular textiles

The fabric of the fashion business


The EU is setting the standard for regulating the private sector’s environmental and social implications. So, if you do business within the EU or have European partners, suppliers, or subsidiaries, you should be prepared.

Ursula Von Der Leyen, who has made climate action a priority on her administration’s political agenda, has stated on multiple occasions the need to “turn today’s challenges into tomorrow’s opportunities.”

In the spirit of the European Green Deal, the European Commission has been hard at work in recent months on climate policies that will affect the private sector. Here’s what they’ve done so far:

  • adopting a proposal for a Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive
  • presenting a plan for the development of a set of EU sustainability reporting standards, 
  • applying the green taxonomy
  • introducing the new circular economy action plan and the industrial strategy
  • presenting the EU strategy for sustainable and circular textiles – today we’ll be talking about this

But first, here are some not-so-fun facts about the fashion industry

Source: European Parliament

  • The textile industry is the 4th most polluting after mobility, housing and food
  • Textile production is the third highest area of water consumption and land use
  • It is also the fifth highest industry in terms of raw material use
  • On average, clothing has a lifespan of just two to three years
  • The average European discards about 11 kg of textiles yearly
  • Textile waste is sometimes exported out of the EU (which is another issue in itself), but 87% is incinerated or ends up in landfills
  • Less than 1% of clothes are recycled globally

We can all agree that these figures are staggering and can’t continue. Enter the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles. It exists to tackle these problems, and then a few more. 

Objectives of the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles

This policy includes two non-negotiables:

  1. Decoupling economic growth from production 
  2. Maintaining (or even increasing) the competitiveness of EU businesses inside and outside the region. 

Therefore, all the objectives within the Strategy must be achieved with this in mind.

  • Following Brussel’s ongoing fight against premature obsolescence and the Right to Repair initiative, textile products need to be “durable, repairable and recyclable”. 
  • “Fast fashion is out of fashion” – the European Commission says it, not us. 
  • With garment longevity being a priority, all present and future policies need to make sure consumers have access to high-quality, affordable, durable and safe textiles (meaning that they don’t contain hazardous substances). 
  • Alternative business models promoting circularity (reusing, repairing, renting,…) should be widespread and accessible. 
  • Innovation throughout the entire supply chain needs to be an industry priority (e.g. eco-design policy).
  • Producers should take responsibility for the impact of their goods, from raw material extraction to production, consumption and disposal (e.g. Extended Producer Responsibility policy).

Roadmap 

The Strategy partially pivots around existing policies and initiatives but also introduces new regulatory frameworks. 

The existing policies include:

Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation

Which expands the previously existing 2009 Ecodesign directive into industries like the textile. 

It aims at ensuring that products have a longer lifespan and are recyclable at their end. 

The measures include enforcing performance and circularity requirements, as well as disclosures for traceability and the environmental impact of products.

Ecolabel Scheme

This voluntary, customer-facing scheme aims at helping consumers to make informed purchasing choices. In order to be considered for Ecolabel, a product needs to meet requirements that include lack of harmful substances, disclosures on water use and air pollution, and expected lifespan of the garment. 

2008 Waste Framework Directive

Which lays down basic waste management principles, such as the protection of human health and natural environments from potentially hazardous substances derived from waste, and the “polluter pays” principle. 

It also introduces the waste hierarchy which is highly relevant in the framework of circular textiles. 

In addition to these existing policies and initiatives, the European Commission aims at introducing new requirements: 

  • establishing design standards for textiles to make them repairable, recyclable and more durable
  • a Digital Product Passport to provide clear information about textiles
  • combatting “greenwashing” by addressing the accuracy of green claims
  • fighting overproduction and overconsumption, and controlling the destruction of unsold or returned textiles.
  • harmonising EU Extended Producer Responsibility laws for textiles and providing financial incentives to create more sustainable goods
  • addressing the contribution of the textile industry to microplastic pollution
  • addressing the export of textile waste and implementing an EU Toolbox against counterfeiting by 2023
  • publishing an action plan addressed to stakeholders in the textile sector to boost resilience, set a transition pathway, and follow the green and digital transitions.

Are you in the fashion sector and you want to know how to use this new Strategy in your advantage?

Contact us or book a discovery call with our consultants.

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