EU project building a Circular Plan on Textile Industry

08 December 2022 /

6 min

On March 2022, the European Union launched the long-awaited Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) under the framework of the Green Deal. This ambitious regulatory project aims to promote a more sustainable textile industry which sets out strict rules that overhaul in which manner products are designed in a bid to lower GHGs emissions as well as their respective environmental impact, other than energy consumption. The envisaged sustainable products transition pathway will definitely proclaim the EU as the global pioneer of long-lasting fashion business model. 

Indeed, the EU Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevičius pointed out that “fast fashion is now out of fashion”, by means of promoting a model requirement based on effective policies that deal with circularity and sustainability frameworks: the use of eco-friendly fibres, removal of SVHCs (substances of very high concerns), production and distribution grounded on re-usable, recyclable as well as a  durable approach.  

Under the lens of businesses and companies’ outlooks, the garment industry will be held accountable for the good’s life-cycle along all the value-chain. Likewise, it will be crucial to empower consumers to have more responsible behaviour by making ‘greener choices’, outreaching towards two hand clothing, recycling and reusing their clothes. 

However, with a view to set in place a circular framework for the textile industry in which sustainable clothes and footwear will become the norm in the EU, it was necessary to launch a new package of various initiatives, each targeting a distinct issue.

EU Footwear and Apparel Industry at crossroad 

Although it is not borne in mind, the impact of the intensive textile industry has a harmful footprint on nature. After food, housing and mobility, textile consumption has a tremendous impact on the environment as well as on  climate change; it’s the fourth pressure category for water consumption and land use, fifth for GHGs (Greenhouse gas) emissions and lastly has a massive leakage of microplastic waste estimated between 200.000 and 500.000 tonnes discarded per year into the maritime  environment, for a total of 5.8 M tonnes (European Environmental Agency, 2022).

Despite the aforementioned data, the alarming point rests in the fact that  the production and consumption is steadily growing, due to  the fast fashion phenomenon. Stakeholders’ social trend behaviours are still determined by a wasteful business model. As an example, production has doubled  between the year of 2000 and 2015 (EEA). In terms of usage , to give an idea of the individual textile consumption in the EU: 26 kg of textiles per person are consumed each year of which 11.3 kg wasted nine cubic metres of water, 400 square metres of land, 391 kg of raw materials, and causes a carbon footprint of about 270kg.

A set of requirement instruments from the EU

To hamper this out-of-control production and consumption system, under the Circular Economy Action Plan, the European Commission launched several initiatives seeking to address the environmental damage caused by the industry so far. These proposals are  targeted to swap the textile industry model into a regulatory circular economy framework towards more sustainable industry. 

These projects  set out concrete actions ensuring that only durable, repairable and recyclable products, made mostly  of recycled fibres and free hazardous substances, will be placed on the EU market. The deadline is set for 2030, thereafter the EU Single Market will commercialise exclusively long lived products, more friendly to the environment, circular, and energy efficient throughout their whole lifecycle from the design phase through to daily use, repurposing and end-of-life.

The main regulatory scheme in order to make this transition pathway happen rests in the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textile (also called Textile Strategy). It lays down a wide range of eco-design requirements such as a last-long criteria as well as to be easier to upgrade, repair, refurbish and recycle. It introduces a Digital Product Passport as a tool that will easily transmit reliable information to the consumers about the garment’s environmental impact,  with the objective to make consumers responsible choices of their purchased goods along all the supply chain production, under the scope to make an easier repair or recycle activity. Another step onward towards a truthful eco-friendly system is to make producers accountable for all the life-cycle processes across the value chain: thus, businesses will be required to disclose the number of unsold products in addition to the number of units they discard and destroy each year. Moreover, within the scope to tackle greenwashing practices, businesses will be mandatorily obliged to substantiate claims used in marketing- environmentally friendly, eco-friendly and green-  on the environmental footprint of their products. If a product’s claim cannot be demonstrated through the EU Ecolabel or other national and EU-wide laws, the infringing product will be forbidden to be sold in the European Economic Area. 

Overwhelming ambitions or implementation feasibility? 

Although the EU textile industries welcome the swap into a more circular economy, they reserve some concerns on the applicability of the aforementioned rules. Clothing giants labelled these provisions as crackdown measures that may game-change the value chain, if wrongly implemented they may cause a collapse of the European textile value chain under the burden of restrictions, requirements, costs and unlevel playing field. Doubts are mainly being raised on the costs that the sector is called to afford for succeeding successfully in the green transition and whether the industry will be supported to deploy it. Also, the EU garment industry is therefore required to plan R&D investment strategies targeting new capabilities and innovations in their production process other than building a blueprint grounded by extended producer responsibility and corporate social responsibility. 

What are the expected targets realistically achievable by 2030?

The Commission issued many initiatives within the textiles’ ecosystem in a way that all the actors of the industry are encouraged to take on an active role in the co-creation process through their commitments on circular business models, actions to strengthen sustainable competitiveness, digitalization and resilience coupled with the identification of specific investments needed for the green  transition. In this context, Horizon EU funding programme is partially devoted to the execution of EU textile projects (i.e., CISUTAC, T-REX). In addition, the development of a communication strategy framed by dialogues’ platforms such as the EU Circular Talks plays a fundamental role of aid for outreach to the stakeholders involvement. These changes can boom the entire textile ecosystem and create a model of successful green and digital transition in the manufacturing industry which will have the potential to  make a difference in the global fight against climate change. All that is left is to observe the implementation of these projects and analyse the results.

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