Making the textile industry sustainable: this is the goal of the European Union which on 30 March 2022 through an official communication from the Commission announced the new strategy that will involve the entire supply chain and which will soon be confirmed by ad hoc legislation.
Textiles are the protagonists of our daily lives in different guises: not only with clothing and furnishings, but also medical devices, buildings, vehicles, packaging items. Production and consumption of textile products continue to increase, as well as their impact on the environment. The advent of fast fashion has also established an unsustainable economic model in the sector based on overproduction and the frantic purchase of low-priced low-quality garments.
All this means that every year, in the EU, about 5.8 million tons of textile products end up in landfills or incinerators. These are products created to respond to market demand promptly, made with inefficient and environmentally harmful production methods, that die quickly.
This is why the European Commission has decided to intervene with a new strategy that aims to overturn current trends by making all textile products durable and recyclable on the European market by 2030.
The EU goal: sustainable and circular textile
It starts from the assumption that “in a competitive, resilient and innovative textile sector, manufacturers take responsibility for their products along the value chain, even when these products become waste”. Durability, quality, technologies and material composition are among the fundamental aspects for an efficient and environmentally friendly design.
But how to optimize them?
Durability and quality
The first requirement of a low environmental impact textile product is its durability. In fact, by delaying its transformation into waste, waste and CO2 emissions related to disposal are eliminated. For this to happen, the product must be manufactured in compliance with quality standards that guarantee a long cycle of use.
For this the European Commission plans to put bans on the destruction of unsold products and an obligation of transparency: large companies will have to make the number of products they throw away and destroy public, as well as their further treatment for reuse, recycling, incineration or disposal in landfills.
At the same time, the Commission will work on developing binding specifications that favour the durability, reusability, repairability and recyclability of textile industry products.
These specifications will also serve as a boost to recycling technologies, which currently have limitations especially in relation to the composition of the fabrics.
In fact, different fibers are often mixed (such as cotton and polyester): this makes recycling more difficult because the technologies capable of separating the fibers are still few. The addition of elastane to fabrics or the blending of different types of polyester also represent obstacles to current recycling techniques. This is why, in addition to encouraging the development of technologies, the Commission focuses on the composition of materials as well.
The composition of materials
The regulation on the labeling of textile products will be reviewed to ensure a label that clearly describes the fibrous composition but also contains other fundamental information on sustainability and circularity parameters. Therefore, textiles will enjoy a real digital passport so that consumers will be fully aware of the environmental impact of the product they are buying.
The central role of companies
The first promoters of change must be companies: in order for a real and profound transformation to happen, companies will have to internalize the principles and models of the circular economy, as well as take responsibility for the entire life cycle of the products, including the end.
Several Member States have already rallied regarding this matter, given the obligation to establish a separate collection of textile waste by 1 January 2025. However, the Commission is also considering setting up incentives for companies so that they ensure compliance with the principles of circularity of their products.
And then anti-greenwashing measures, initiatives to encourage production on demand and custom-made, actions aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of electronic commerce, research incentives, and much more.
The aim is to establish a new paradigm immediately because it is possible and necessary.
The guidelines are there; standards, minimum criteria and legislation will arrive in the second half of 2022: now it’s up to us, let’s roll up our sleeves and give life to a sustainable textile!
Read the official Communication of the European Commission here: