Sustainable Fur and the Circular Economy Action Plan
The textile and the clothing sectors are becoming central to the EU political discourse around the circular economy. This is illustrated by the European Green Deal, the new roadmap for a sustainable growth launched by the European Commission, which openly mentions the textile sector when referring to the European Commission's 'Circular Economy Action Plan'. This new plan aims to increase the circularity of the EU’s economy, preserve its natural environment and support the contribution of the EU’s industry in order to achieve a climate-neutral continent. The plan was presented on 11 March, and the fur sector is keen to contribute to its effective implementation at the coming Sustainable Fur Forum event in April.
Natural fur is the ultimate example of a circular product
The European Commission rightly counts the textile sector among those relying "mainly on unsustainable and sub-optimal use of resources, leading to excessive production of waste, and increasing the environmental footprint of our economy instead of bringing the needed decoupling". Yet, natural fur is a material characterised by longevity that generates little to no waste when it finally leaves the user-phase. Indeed, with proper care fur clothes last for decades, contrary to materials that intensify the environmental impacts due to their premature replacement.
The longevity of natural fur stems from the material's durability as much as its ability to maintain a fresh look, and not 'wear out'. This makes natural fur an ideal material to repair, remodel and recycle. Keeping products in use for a long time is textbook circularity, but many modern products are not designed for longevity, and often most repair logistics are lacking.
After decades of use, natural fur has the ability to biodegrade. As demonstrated by tests realised in 2018 by the Organic Waste Systems laboratory of Ghent (Belgium), natural fur biodegrades in landfill conditions through consumption by microorganisms of the carbon inside the fur. On the contrary, fake fur does not biodegrade as it is made of synthetic fibres, which break down into ever smaller pieces and eventually form microplastic fibres that are a serious polluter of all the world's oceans and waterways, as well as a serious threat to wildlife and human health.
Upstream of the circularity of the material, farmed fur animals feed on waste products from the production of human food including chicken- and fish offal, pig blood and other protein sources. By buying these by-products, fur farms contribute to upcycling of waste generated by human food production and provide a source of revenue for thriving European bio-economy. Once the farming process is completed, fur farms supply by-products (manure, carcasses and soiled straw bedding) to other industries in order to produce second-generation biofuel, organic fertilizers or cosmetic products, thus completing the nutrient cycle.
Sustainable Fur Forum: discussion about the Circular Economy Action Plan and beyond
While fur owns intrinsic characteristics of sustainability (long-lasting, renewable, biodegradable) which make it one of the flagship productions of a circular economy, it is essential that the upcoming Circular Economy Action Plan enables the European fur value-chain to realize its potential to contribute to the transition towards responsible and sustainable use of the available resources. In this context, key concepts for the textile sector must be clearly defined (for example "recycling", "re-manufacturing", "reuse"), financial instruments shall be envisaged to help companies in their transition towards a more circular production, while consumers must be properly informed about the environmental impact of their choices and about the sustainable consumer behaviour.
Beyond the Commission's next action plan, it is clear that the reflection around the further development of the economy in a circular way is one of utmost importance, and that this ground-breaking paradigm is likely to modify production and consumption patterns for many years to come. The role of fur in the circular economy will be at the heart of the next Sustainable Fur Forum event that is set to take place in May or June in the European Parliament of Brussels. More information will soon be available on the website sustainablefur.com.