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EU Textiles Strategy to Create ‘Harmonized’ Response to Circular Fashion

The European Commission is pondering a “coordinated and harmonized” response to address what it describes as structural weaknesses regarding textile waste collection, sorting and recycling across member states.

The European Green Deal, the Circular Economy Action Plan and the European industrial strategy have all identified textiles as a “priority sector” for accelerating a carbon-neutral, circular economy. But the textile sector, the commission noted in a roadmap last week, is highly globalized, with piecemeal action at national and local levels that are “insufficient to drive change.”

“A lack of EU action would undermine effective environmental protection across the EU, as well as the possibility of creating a level playing field for textile businesses in and outside the EU,” the document noted. “The proper functioning of the internal market would also be at risk. Finally, failure to act would run counter to the strong demand from stakeholders in recent years to develop a sustainable textiles approach at EU rather than at national level.”

The roadmap, which is open to stakeholder and citizen feedback until February, comes ahead of a more formalized European Union Strategy for Sustainable Textiles that will be coming down the pipeline in the third quarter of the year. It provides a preview of some of the policies being considered, including targets to “significantly step up” reuse and recycling efforts, improve textile waste collection, increase green public procurement across the EU and promote more sustainable production processes.

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The initiative will also propose actions to “make the textile ecosystem fit for the circular economy” by identifying weaknesses regarding sustainable production, sustainable lifestyles, the presence of substances of concern, and improving design for sustainability.

“These objectives will be considered through a structured engagement with the industrial ecosystem and other stakeholders (i.e. research and innovation, consumer associations, investment companies, member states, civil society), to allow for their swifter achievement and to contribute to monitoring subsequent implementation of the initiative,” the roadmap said.

In addition, the role of extended producer responsibility in promoting textile collection and reuse will “be considered,” as will the legal obligation to begin separately collecting waste textiles by 2025. The initiative will also look at how to bolster human-rights protection and social and environmental due diligence across value chains, including increasing traceability and transparency.

Textile production is a resource-intensive sector with major climate and environmental impacts, the roadmap said. Textile consumption is the fourth-highest pressure category in the EU in terms primary raw materials and water and fifth for greenhouse-gas emissions. “Most of the pressure and impact linked to clothing, footwear and household textiles in Europe occur in other regions of the world,” it added.

Civil groups such as the Civil Society European Strategy for Sustainable Textiles, Garments, Leather & Footwear, a coalition of 65 major environmental, waste and social justice campaign organizations, have urged the commission to establish minimum standards for design and producer responsibility, tackle unfair trading practices and create legislation that stimulates circular design and material efficiency.

“We are calling on the EU to promote a strong circular textiles, garments, leather and footwear industry that respects human rights, creates decent jobs and adheres to high social, environmental and responsible governance standards throughout its value chain, in the EU and beyond,” the coalition, whose members include the Clean Clothes Campaign, Fair Trade International, Oxfam and World Vision, said in a statement in April. “The EU plays a key role as producer, investor, buyer/importer, retailer and consumer in TGLF value chains and therefore has considerable leverage to address these challenges.”