Used in clothing, household goods, furniture, medical and protective equipment, textiles weave an integral part of everyday life, and the production and consumption of textile products continue to grow, along with the environmental impact.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, between 2000 and 2015, global textile production almost doubled and the European Environment Agency (EEA) has projected the consumption of clothing and footwear to grow 63% by the end of the decade, from 62 million tonnes now to 102 million tonnes in 2030.
Clothing accounts for some 81% of the EU’s textile consumption and the rising trend of buying cheaper garments, which are used for a shorter period of time before being thrown away is contributing to what the Commission describes as “unsustainable patterns of overproduction and overconsumption,” better known as fast fashion.
Some 5.8 million tonnes of textiles are discarded every year in the EU – approximately 11kg per person – and every second somewhere in the world a truckload of textiles is landfilled or incinerated.
On top of the environmental consequences, the global textile value chain is fraught with social problems, such as the use of child labour and sweatshops, which are largely a result of the pressures to minimise production costs to meet consumer demand for affordable clothing.
It is against this backdrop, amid rising concerns about the lack of sustainability and social justice, that the Commission released the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles. The Strategy aims to ensure that by 2030, textiles placed on the EU market are “long-lived and recyclable, made as much as possible of recycled fibres, free of hazardous substances and produced in respect of social rights and the environment”.
In terms of specific measures, the Strategy includes ecodesign requirements for textiles, clearer information, and a Digital Product Passport, as well as a compulsory extended producer responsibility scheme.
Plans also contain measures to tackle the release of microplastics from textiles, provide a boost to circular business models including reuse and repair services, and tighten controls of greenwashing.
To take on fast fashion, the Strategy calls on businesses to reduce the number of collections each year and to take further action to minimise their environmental impact. EU Member States are also being urged to push through favourable taxation measures to encourage the growth of the reuse and repair sector.
The bloc says the new measures will ultimately be of benefit to consumers, despite the higher prices of clothing that would likely come if the proposed Strategy becomes law, with longer-lasting and higher-quality garments.
The Commission also presented an outline with a number of possible scenarios for a textiles ecosystem transition pathway and invited stakeholders to express their views on how best to realise the transition.