The European Commission moves a step closer towards boosting the European textile and clothing supply chains’ sustainability.
The recently released roadmap on the EU strategy for textiles is set to cover wider textile and clothing ecosystems, extending to fur, leather and wool. The strategy aims to tackle overproduction and overconsumption and help the EU shift to a climate-neutral, circular economy where clothing products are designed to be more durable, reusable, repairable, recyclable. The roadmap claims to promote ‘sustainable lifestyles’, but it doesn’t explicitly reference product and materials’ longevity, which plays a central role in the circular transition.
Textiles - the fourth highest-pressure category for using primary raw materials and water, and fifth for GHG emissions, are responsible for plastic pollution and excessive textile waste. Low-quality materials, which are the backbone of fast fashion, are the main hurdle for boosting textile recycling. Currently, figures show that 1% of all textiles worldwide are recycled.
Boosting textile reuse was also hindered by the Covid-19 crisis that disrupted the second-hand markets for clothing - one of the few efficient ways to deal with unwanted clothing. Trying to help the sector from COVID-19, the Commission is also setting up conditions - working according to the circular economy principles, boosting environment efforts and improving traceability and transparency.
With this policymakers hope to make textile and apparel supply chains more resilient and more sustainable. Yet, the roadmap doesn’t talk about the transition towards bio-based and biodegradable materials that fit into the circular model better than synthetics.
Surprisingly, references to Green Claims and Environmental Footprint (EF) initiatives are also missing, although both will impact the textile and clothing industry's sustainability practices and communication. The lack of alignment among these policy tools could lead to legal uncertainty.
Striving to reach its net zero carbon goal and tackle pollution, the EU need to work on breaking fashion’s toxic relationship with fossil fuels. The new report by the Changing Markets Foundation on the dependency of fast fashion on fossil fuels states that synthetic material use has increased nine-fold in the last 50 years. This makes up for 350 million barrels of oil every year used only to produce virgin polyester.
Until this happens, designing clothes to last longer and be repaired is the silver bullet the Commission is counting on to make fashion sustainable. This shift from the’ make-take-dispose’ model that dominates across the fashion sector requires supporting SMEs, representing a big part of the EU textile sector, to provide better repair and remanufacture services. The strategy for sustainable textiles, part of the Circular Economy Action plan, is expected to land in the autumn of this year.