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Why Europe’s Fashion Industry Is Poised to ‘Prosper’ in a Circular World

The European textile and apparel industry is in a “privileged position” to “deliver and prosper” in the circular economy, according to a new policy brief from Euratex, the European Apparel and Textile Federation.

Already Europe already boasts a textile value chain capable of “recycling fabrics, regenerating fibers and maximizing resources in production,” the Belgium-based organization said.

“Reducing waste, combined with an intelligent use of resources, has the potential to solve the gap resulting from natural resource scarcity and global growing population or consumption,” Euratex wrote.

But while hundreds of textile businesses have successfully transitioned their business away from a a linear take-make-dispose model, “the potential is much greater,” particularly with the advent of the European Union’s version of the Green New Deal, which seeks to put Europe on track to achieve net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.

“Prospering” in the circular economy can only truly be achieved if existing private and public initiatives rally together to both invest in technological innovation and fuel demand, it said.

Among Euratex’s policy recommendations are establishing clear end-of-waste criteria for textiles.

“Textile products are complex and are often made of different type of fibers and materials; it would be necessary to define criteria at EU level for which textile waste ceases to be waste,” Euratex wrote. “This would facilitate textile waste to become secondary raw material and a valuable resource for further uses.”

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Euratex also suggests stimulating collection and demand for recycled textile materials through partnerships rather than “forced” extended producer responsibility schemes. Voluntary collection partnerships at the EU level, it says, would better “define roles, responsibilities and benefits” for each stakeholder in the supply chain instead of taking a “one-size-fits-all” tack.

Investing in textile waste management to overcome technological challenges is another key consideration, according to Euratex, as is a comprehensive approach to resource efficiency that incentivizes circular design.

“The high cost of fiber sorting and limits in applicable technologies for mechanical/chemical recycling are considered as an obstacle to scaling up,” Euratex wrote. “Private and public investment combined with appropriate regulatory policy and business will greatly help the transition from linear to circular economy.”

Equally important is the role of the consumer, who should be protected from misleading claims, a.k.a. greenwashing.

“European and global consumers will ultimately reward the efforts made by the business and policy makers by choosing better products and by making the circular economy really sustainable,” Euratex noted.