Europe: The Whys of a Better Textile Waste Management
April 17, 2023

We must learn how to take care of our existing resources, textiles being one of the more climate impactful sectors. Textiles are the fabric of everyday life, used in clothes and furniture, medical and protective equipment, buildings, and vehicles. The EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles presents an approach, to create a future use of textiles in a harmonised manner. Here we present the reasoning behind this need.

European consumption of textiles has the fourth highest impact on the environment and climate change, after food, housing, and mobility. It’s the third sector for water and land use, and fifth in the use of virgin raw materials and greenhouse gas emissions.

The textile sectors employ more than 1.5 million people in over 160 000 companies, with a turnover of €162 billion in 2019. Composed essentially of small and medium-size enterprises (SME), the textiles ecosystem needs to strengthen its resilience and increase its attractiveness to a talented and skilled workforce. At the same time, Europe has always been home to innovative brands, creativity, know-how and quality textile products.

Textile waste management is a must
Some of the raw material sectors of society are already doing a more extensive recycling, adapting to a circular economy. This includes paper and pulp, metals, and plastics. These materials are called high value recycled resources because they are traditionally easier (and more common) to recycle. But to be able to build a sustainable future, all resources must go from the traditional linear economy into the future-friendly circular ones. In a circular economy, waste does not exist. Products and raw materials are designed for reuse for as long as possible. Waste is the new raw material.
This means that the textile sector must start to think anew, creating ways of taking care of the waste of textiles, it being a valuable resource.

A complex set of initiatives
The EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles aims to create a greener, more competitive, and more modern sector – also more resistant to global shocks. To achieve this the EU strategy proposes actions for the entire lifecycle of textiles products, while supporting the ecosystem in the green and digital transitions. It addresses the way textiles are designed and consumed, including by looking also at sustainable technological solutions and innovative business models.

Simply put, the EU Strategy encourages a shift towards quality, durability, longer use, repair and reuse. Included in the strategy are certain requirements, all part of the whole to create a circular textile economy in Europe (and the world).

Some of the requirements

  • Demand for new textile design, including use of recycled fibres
  • Need for clearer information on textile origin
  • A tighter control on greenwashing
  • A need to address the unintentional release of microplastics from textiles
  • More harmonised EU rules on extended producer responsibility for textiles
  • Addressing challenges related to halting the export of textile waste.

Requirements on municipalities
One of the main documents stating the requirements to achieve the aims in the strategy is The EU Waste management Directive. This Directive states that textile collection must be implemented by all municipals in the European Union no later than 2025. This includes various levels and collection rates, as well as the recovery of the textile resources. The Directive is based on the EU New Green Deal objectives and the Circular Action Plan – promoting a textile system based on circularity. This includes the need to build a sustainable, circular system for all textile use. The directive emphasises products’ end of life, and the need to turn the used textiles into recycled resources.