While waste from the packaging or electronics sectors has been strictly regulated for years, the waste problem of the fashion and apparel industry has never been seriously addressed, until now. Major new policy changes at European and national level will profoundly affect the textile sector. But are our products and systems prepared to meet the new requirements?
Europe will become the first continent in the world to introduce regulations to improve the circularity of fabrics, curb overproduction, enable consumers to make more responsible choices and hold fashion brands accountable for their huge waste problem. The European Commission published the EU Textiles Strategy last March, which defined the vision and concrete actions to ensure that by 2030 textile products placed on the EU market are long-lived and recyclable, made as much as possible with fibers. recycled, free of hazardous substances and produced in compliance with social rights and the environment. Specific measures will include ecodesign requirements for textiles, clearer consumer information, a digital product passport and a mandatory EU extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme.
The fast fashion model has grown continuously over the past decades and 48 million tons of clothes are disposed of each year worldwide, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation report. Make the fashion circular (2017). These volumes are increasing year on year and are expected to increase even more significantly due to the entry into force of the Waste Framework Directive, which requires EU Member States (MS) to collect textile waste separately from from 2025.
To help manage the intensification of textile waste streams, policy makers have taken action to close the materials loop and initiate a transition to the circular economy that will promote maximum reuse and recovery of textile resources and waste prevention.
Extended manufacturer responsibility (EPR)
An EPR scheme is a regulatory measure that involves setting fees so that companies pay the costs associated with managing the end-of-life of their products, according to the Changing Markets Foundation. The concept of “Extended Producer Responsibility” (EPR) has been applied in Europe to many product categories, including batteries, consumer packaging, whiteware and electronics. With the implementation of the EPR, the costs associated with the end of life, reuse or recovery of textiles will (in part) be borne by producers, rather than municipalities, and, by extension, citizens, as is currently the case.
The EPR is a tool to promote the sustainable management of textiles and textile waste in accordance with the waste hierarchy. It places greater responsibility on manufacturers for the collection, treatment and recycling of textiles. The EPR policy requires manufacturers to responsibly handle all end-of-life products marketed in the country by either operating individually under an approved recovery plan or by contributing financially to a legally accredited producer responsibility organization (PRO).
The leading example of EPR in the textile sector has been running in France since 2008. The PRO operating on behalf of over 5,000 companies is “Eco TLC”, now renamed Refashion. According to the Refashion 2020 annual report, they have selected 156,202 tons of fabrics, where reuse represents 56.5% and recycling 33.3%.
The EU Textile Strategy harmonises only a few key elements of the EPR at EU level, which includes guidance on future eco-modulation tariffs and the setting of mandatory targets for reuse and recycling. But then each EU member state can implement their own EPR for textiles, as noted in a 2020 position paper from Euratex. Following in the footsteps of France, and in anticipation of EU-wide guidance, several countries have already started developing their own national schemes, including Sweden, the Netherlands, Greece, the UK, Spain, Italy and Ireland, according to PolicyHub.
The potential for EPR to help drive the transition to a zero-waste circular textile industry is not only seen in Europe. Other regions and countries have also expressed the need for textile EPR through various policy recommendation reports such as those of the Textile Product Stewardship Project in New Zealand or the California Product Stewardship Council (CPSC) in the United States.
Recover ™ recognizes the many positive aspects of the EU textile strategy, such as stimulating circular design for textile products or the future opportunity to use EPR tax revenues to address the challenges of downsizing fabric-to-fabric recycling of post-consumer garments. However, as an industry we have a lot of work to do to prepare for the implementation of these policies, some of which require the development and / or downsizing of new technologies, new tools and processes, the disruption of existing business models or the change of consumer-level behavior for example.
To support and help drive the necessary transformation, Recover ™ is part of several initiatives that are trying to bring about change. For example, Recover ™ is a member of the ReHubs Business Council, a joint initiative launched by Euratex to recycle textile waste and circular materials across Europe. The goal is to create 5 hubs for the treatment of textile waste and to become European coordination centers. Additionally, Recover ™ is on the Steering Committee for Accelerating Circularity, a collaborative project that has initiated efforts to promote textile recycling and accelerate the industry’s shift from linear to circular.
This article was written by Helene Smits, Head of Sustainability, Recover™.
To learn more about Recover ™, click here.