The new EU strategy for sustainable and circular textiles by 2030

May 31, 2023
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What is this new strategy about?

Textiles are woven into the fabric of our everyday existence, serving various roles ranging from clothing and household goods to their use in furniture, as well as in products such as medical and protective equipment, buildings, and vehicles. The escalation of textile production and consumption is undeniable, paralleled by an increasing impact on climate change, water and energy use, and overall environmental degradation.

In the European Union, textile consumption, predominantly comprised of imports, currently stands as the fourth largest contributor to environmental damage and climate change, and the third largest in terms of global water and land use from a life-cycle perspective. Annually, approximately 5.8 million tonnes of textiles are discarded within the EU, equating to roughly 11kg per individual. The urgent necessity to address the issues surrounding the production and consumption of textiles has never been more apparent.

The EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles advocates for a harmonious approach to achieving these crucial objectives. The strategy is an embodiment of the commitments made under the European Green Deal, the new Circular Economy Action Plan, and the Industrial Strategy. It is designed with the aim of fostering a greener, more competitive, and modernised sector that is more resilient to global disruptions.

What key actions are included in the Strategy?

The Strategy presents holistic measures that encompass the entire lifecycle of textile products, facilitating the green and digital transitions within the industry. This includes redefining how textiles are designed and consumed, exploring sustainable technological solutions, and fostering innovative business models.

These measures consist of:

  • The introduction of new design prerequisites for textiles under the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation, which establishes mandatory minimums for incorporating recycled fibres into textiles, enhancing their durability, and facilitating their repair and recycling. The proposed regulation aims to make sustainable textile products the standard within the EU and also seeks to prohibit the destruction of unsold items under certain conditions, including unsold or returned textiles.
  • The provision of more transparent information about textiles and the creation of a Digital Product Passport founded on obligatory information requirements related to circularity and other key environmental aspects.
  • The tightening of regulations against greenwashing, incorporating stringent rules to safeguard consumers, and forging direct connections to the forthcoming Green Claims Initiative.
  • Efforts to address the unintentional release of microplastics from textiles. In addition to product design, these measures will target manufacturing processes, pre-washing at industrial manufacturing facilities, labelling, and the promotion of innovative materials.
  • The implementation of unified EU rules concerning extended producer responsibility for textiles and the provision of economic incentives to produce more sustainable products ("eco-modulation of fees") as part of the revision of the Waste Framework Directive in 2023.
  • Support for research, innovation, and investment, as well as the development of skills required for green and digital transitions.
  • Addressing challenges related to the halt of textile waste export.
  • The collaborative creation of a Transition Pathway for the Textiles Ecosystem to establish the path forward and define concrete steps towards achieving the 2030 goals set by the Textiles Strategy.

Key actions in the Textiles Strategy:

Set design requirements for textiles to make them last longer, easier to repair and recycle, as well as requirements on minimum recycled content.

Address the unintentional release of microplastics from synthetic textiles.

Introduce clearer information about products and a Digital Product Passport.

Restrict the export of textile waste and promote sustainable textiles globally.

Tackle greenwashing to empower consumers and raise awareness about sustainable fashion.

Incentivise circular business models, inlcuding reuse and repair sectors.

Reverse overproduction and overconsumption, and discourage the destruction of unsold or returned textile.

Encourage companies and Member States to support the objectives of the Strategy.

Propose mandatory Extended Producer Responsibility for textiles with eco-modulation of fees.

How does the Strategy tackle the issue of fast fashion?

A significant proportion of the pressures resulting from textile consumption are linked to fast fashion – inexpensive, low-quality garments produced rapidly, often under substandard labour conditions outside the EU. The Strategy addresses both the demand and supply side complications this phenomenon generates. For manufacturers, mandatory design requirements for textiles and an increased focus on extended producer responsibility schemes will help prolong the lifespan of clothing.

Through the Transition Pathway, the Commission will collaborate with stakeholders to accelerate resource-efficient manufacturing processes, reuse, repair, and the emergence of new circular business models within the textiles sector. The strategy encourages Member States to support the reuse and repair sectors at national, regional, and local levels and to adopt tax reductions and other favourable taxation measures for these sectors.

From the consumer perspective, the Strategy promotes a transition towards higher quality, durability, extended use, repair, and reuse. Through the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform, it will rally designers, producers, retailers, advertisers, and citizens to redefine EU fashion.
Several clothing retailers have preemptively broadened their offerings of single-fibre garments in anticipation of the EU's regulatory crackdown.

What implications does the Strategy hold for companies and manufacturers?

All materials, including those that are sustainable, must adhere to various requirements. Some of these are compulsory, regardless of whether they are enforced legally or otherwise. Others are optional, but fulfilling them may provide a competitive edge.

What are the compulsory requirements?
If you intend to export apparel to Europe, there are several mandatory requirements to comply with. These encompass legal requirements related to the use of chemicals, alongside non-legal requirements. Furthermore, numerous buyers have established non-negotiable terms and conditions for all their suppliers, typically involving standards and certifications for raw materials testing, product performance, product safety, labelling, and environmental and/or social impact.

What are the legal requirements?
REACH, the EU Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals, imposes certain restrictions. The European Union has limited the utilization of specific chemicals in textile products due to potential health risks to consumers. In textile products that have skin contact, flame retardants are limited. Frequently used flame retardants include Tris (2,3 dibromopropyl) phosphate (TRIS), Tris (aziridinyl) phosphineoxide (TEPA), and polybromobiphenyles (PBB). Azo dyes, which are often used in the textile dyeing process, have certain carcinogenic types that are prohibited in consumer products in Europe.

Non-legal mandatory requirements.
When initially conducting business with a European buyer, they will typically provide a contract and/or a supplier manual for you to sign. By signing, you commit to adhering to all listed requirements. The responsibility for enforcing these requirements at your facility and within your upstream supply chain lies with you. Any issues arising at your (or one of your suppliers') facilities or with the product, including those discovered post-delivery, will hold you accountable.

Brands and retailers may insist on social and environmental audits of raw materials production facilities, either conducted by themselves or an independent third party. These audits could be announced or unannounced. Factories and mills refusing full access are typically blacklisted and denied future orders. Many brands have developed their own Restricted Substances List (RSL), based on industry and regulatory standards, which material and garment suppliers must adhere to. Complying with REACH and customer-specific requirements can be demanding. For smaller orders, most European buyers will not request testing, but if illegal chemicals are found post-delivery or products fail to meet standards, you will be responsible for all associated costs. Numerous buyers distribute a supplier Code of Conduct within the supplier manual. This Code of Conduct outlines the buyer's values and policies on key topics to ensure suppliers understand and comply with the required ethical standards. This may encompass aspects like:

  • Child labour;
  • Forced labour and overtime;
  • Health & Safety;
  • Discrimination;
  • Fair remuneration;
  • Environment;
  • Business integrity and conflicts of interest;
  • Intellectual property;

An increasing number of European purchasers are intensifying their commitment and requirements with regard to sustainable production and social responsibility. This escalation is driven by growing consumer consciousness regarding the adverse environmental and social repercussions of fashion, coupled with an increasingly rigorous regulatory landscape. Manufacturers capable of adjusting their supply chains to accommodate these demands are well-positioned to capitalise on opportunities within this sphere.
Ready to keep up with all the requirements?
Opportunities abound for companies that embrace this transformation, leading to not only an enhanced reputation but also increased resilience in an ever-changing market. The European Commission's Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles offers a clear pathway for this transition.

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