The European Commission (EC) is implementing an ambitious programme to reduce textile waste in the EU, with tangible targets for 2030 being set.
The EC has noted that the EU generates 12.6 million tonnes of textile waste per year but only 22% of post-consumer textile waste is collected separately for re-use or recycling, while the remainder is often incinerated or landfilled. On the basis that the consumption of textiles in the EU has, on average, the fourth highest impact on the environment and climate change, on 30 March 2022, the EC published its strategy for sustainable and circular textiles (the Textiles Strategy). The Textiles Strategy expressly addresses the production and consumption of textiles within the EU, whilst implementing commitments set out within the European Green Deal, the Circular Economy Action Plan and the European Industrial Strategy.
The Textiles Strategy aims to “create a greener, more competitive sector that is more resistant to global shocks”. The EC’s 2030 vision includes that:
- All textile products placed on the EU market are durable, repairable and recyclable.
- All textile products placed on the EU market are made of recycled fibres and are free of hazardous substances.
- Consumers benefit from longer lasting high-quality textiles which are affordable.
- Re-use and repair services are widely available.
- The textiles sector is competitive, resilient and innovative with producers taking responsibility for their products along the value chain with sufficient capacities for recycling and minimal incineration and landfilling.
The Textiles Strategy further sets out a number of future actions, in which the EC aims to:
- Set design requirements for textiles to ensure that they last longer, are easier to repair and recycle, as well as requirements on minimum recycled content.
- Introduce clearer information and Digital Product Passport requirements.
- Reverse overproduction and overconsumption.
- Discourage the destruction of unsold or returned textiles.
- Address the unintentional release of microplastics from synthetic textiles.
- Tackle greenwashing.
- Introduce mandatory and harmonised Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) rules for textiles in all EU Member States.
- Incentivise producers to design products that are more sustainable.
- Restrict the export of textile waste and promote sustainable textiles globally.
- Incentivise circular business models, including reuse and repair sectors.
Targeted revision of the Waste Framework Directive
On 5 July 2023, the EC published a press release proposing to make producers responsible for the full lifecycle of textile products and to support the sustainable management of textile waste - with the aim to accelerate the development of the separate collection, sorting, reuse and recycling sector for textiles in the EU, in line with the Textiles Strategy. As part of this, the EC is proposing a targeted revision of the Waste Framework Directive as follows:
- Introduce mandatory and harmonised Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes for textiles in all EU Member States. In particular, requiring producers to cover the costs of management of textile waste.
- Promote research and development into innovative technologies for circularity within the textiles sector, such as fibre-to-fibre recycling.
- Address illegal exports of textile waste to countries who are ill-equipped to manage it.
The EC’s proposal on the targeted amendment of the Waste Framework Directive will now be considered by the European Parliament and the European Council in the ordinary legislative procedure. Businesses should keep attuned to any developments and remain proactive in adopting circular business models. In particular, at the early stages of textile product development with durability, repairability and reusability in mind.