Fashion Forward: The EU's Path to Sustainable Textiles

By Laura Garrett

Most people are now aware of the major impact that the textile industry has on the environment, from the production of fibers to the disposal of clothing at the end of its lifecycle. To address this issue, the European Union has developed a strategy for sustainable textiles, aimed at creating a more circular textile industry that takes less of a toll on the environment. It has been just over a year since it was published, so what progress has been made? Firstly, let’s have a recap of what the strategy entailed.

Key Objectives of the EU’s Strategy for Sustainable Textiles

The EU’s strategy for sustainable textiles has several key objectives. First, it seeks to promote the use of sustainable materials and production methods in the textile industry. This includes encouraging the use of organic and recycled fibers, as well as reducing the use of harmful chemicals and increasing energy efficiency in production processes.

Secondly, the strategy aims to promote circularity in the textile industry. This means that products should be designed to be reused, repaired, or recycled at the end of their life, rather than being disposed of. The EU is working to develop a certification system for circular products, which will help consumers make more sustainable choices when shopping for clothing. One way that the EU is pushing circularity is through Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation. EPR is a policy approach that places the responsibility of managing the removal of textiles from the market on the producers themselves. EPR policies aim to incentivize producers to take into account the environmental considerations of their products, including their design, production, use, and disposal.

The strategy also includes measures to improve working conditions in the textile industry, particularly in developing countries where many textiles are produced. The EU also seeks to ensure that workers in the textile industry are treated fairly and paid a living wage and that their rights are respected.

France and Italy Setting the Bar

France has set the bar for a long time now, but now other EU countries are beginning to catch up and make progress. Italy has moved swiftly to position itself near the front of the pack when it comes to textile EPR. The textile sector in Italy is large; it consists of over 40,000 companies, employs 300,000 people, and is worth somewhere in the region of 52 billion euros per year which explains Italy’s desire to get ahead of the curve. In February, a draft decree was issued outlining Italy’s plans to create an EPR system that prioritizes reuse and makes producers more responsible for the items they place into the market. Importantly, the draft decree places obligations on all producers selling in Italy, even distance sellers who only sell online. In line with the EU strategy, the Italian draft decree suggests Italy will seek to scale up collection, reuse, and recycling systems as well as encourage more circular design principles.

While the final decree is yet to be published in Italy, it will likely retain many of the ambitious and progressive elements seen in the draft. We’re also expecting things could move swiftly once the final decree is released.

Other Countries May Follow Suit

We are likely to see many more countries follow where France and Italy have led. The Netherlands will be forging ahead with its plans in early summer, and Scotland has also announced it intends to consult on textile collections after committing to follow the EU’s lead on this. With others also likely to make their own announcements in time, we expect to see a lot more progress made over the next 12 months.

Getting a Head Start

While these regulations are still in their infancy in most countries, it’s only a matter of time before they will become official, making it mandatory for companies to comply. For those who want to stay ahead of the game, it would be good to already begin looking at how to craft a circularity strategy that will keep your business compliant with new laws.

With a truly international footprint, the Reconomy Group is well-placed to assist companies with textile circularity inquiries, regardless of where their operations are located. Both we and our sister company Valpak are part of Reconomy Group and can assist with ensuring that your operations are sustainable, compliant, and future-proof.

With ‘product lifecycle’ forming one of our 5 sustainability categories at ReBound, we are with you every step of the way when it comes to achieving more circular returns and unpacking what the EPR legislation means for your business. We can help you reduce the carbon footprint of your returns and make sure that those not fit to be resold are repaired, donated, or rerouted to a recycling facility, ensuring that they stay within the circular economy.

Valpak can help companies ensure compliance with the new legislation. They recently hosted a webinar “Planet Vs Profit: International Compliance for Textile Sustainability” for clothing retailers that operate in international markets or have global supply chains. The webinar gives an overview of what other countries are planning when it comes to textile sustainability, how global retailers are engaging with consultations on textile sustainability and legislation, and provides tips and advice on how to make sure producers’ voices are heard. You can access a copy of the webinar recording via their Knowledge Hub here.

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