The textile industry finds itself at a critical juncture in its journey towards sustainability, as its ecological impact accounts for more than 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
In recognition of the pressing need to tackle this issue, well-known brands such as Adidas, Bestseller, C&A, H&M Group, Inditex, and VF International have joined forces with the Policy Hub – Circularity for Apparel & Footwear and Eunomia Research & Consulting to spearhead an initiative aimed at developing a comprehensive waste management system. The ultimate goal is two-fold: reducing pollution and facilitating the transition to a circular economy for textiles within the European Union (EU).
In Europe, textiles represent one of the largest environmental burdens after food, housing, and transport. To mitigate these impacts, the Policy Hub emphasizes the crucial importance of implementing circular practices and end-of-life solutions that minimize the disposal, landfilling, and incineration of textile waste.
Textiles have one of the largest carbon footprints
A central pillar of this endeavor lies in harmonising and implementing waste management schemes throughout the EU's Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) framework. EPR serves as the cornerstone of textile waste management, embodying the "polluter pays" principle. It places the responsibility on producers to finance the management of their products' end-of-life, thereby enabling the closure of the materials and product cycle.
Eunomia Research & Consulting, an esteemed authority in the field of circular economy, has recently published a report specifically examining the role of EPR in facilitating this transition. The report offers several key recommendations, including the establishment of a standardised definition of an "obligated producer." Clearer guidance is also advocated to ensure industry stakeholders fully understand their responsibilities, enhance enforcement measures, and alleviate administrative burdens.
Sustainability starts at conception
Moreover, it is vital to note that sustainability efforts must extend beyond the end-of-life cycle of products. The Policy Hub emphasises that "everything starts with design," asserting that the choice of materials and production processes during the design phase significantly impacts a product's environmental footprint. Furthermore, manufacturers should be incentivised to eliminate waste through design and to monitor their emissions, chemical usage, and production waste.
Bente Bauer, Director of Public Affairs at the Policy Hub, underscores the importance of aligning efforts and fostering a harmonized approach where feasible. By doing so, the burden on producers can be alleviated, thereby bolstering the efficacy of the single market in driving necessary changes. "We must move beyond talking towards action and this report provides a very helpful steer in respect of key elements of the design of EPR for textiles.”
The EU has a crucial opportunity to demonstrate its leadership by establishing a regulatory framework that fosters a sustainable textiles system, notes the Policy Hub. The impact of such a framework extends far beyond the EU's borders due to the globalised nature of the textile supply chain.
Decisions made by regulators, businesses, and individuals within the EU will undoubtedly have significant consequences in third countries.
This moment presents an ideal convergence for industry players, policymakers, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to collaborate and determine the most effective approach to achieving a circular textiles economy and the associated environmental benefits.