For years, the European Commission has been working on a plan to create a circular economy for a more sustainable future. The resulting Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP), adopted in March 2020, includes several strategic initiatives that would transform the EU system into one that further reduces pressure on natural resources and creates sustainable growth and jobs.
The European Commission is expected to adopt another one of the CEAP’s initiatives imminently – the EU strategy for sustainable textiles. According to the Commission,this strategy will “help the EU shift to a climate-neutral, circular economy where products are designed to be more durable, reusable, repairable, recyclable and energy-efficient.” Ahead of the formal strategy, the European Environment Agency (EEA) has published a briefing titled ‘Textiles and the environment: the role of design in Europe’s circular economy.
In this briefing, the EEA outlines the negative environmental impacts of the textile industry and identifies design principles and measures that could increase circularity. Perhaps surprising to some, European textile consumption in 2020 had on average the fourth highest impact on the environment and climate change – behind only food, housing and transport. The briefing notes that to reduce the environmental impacts of textiles, companies should adopt circular business models that require innovation, behavioural changes and consistent policy support.
The EEA’s briefing specifically calls out the need to prioritise circular design as a key component of business models for textiles — focusing on tactics such as designing for durability, ease of reuse, and repair and remanufacturing.
The focus on creating a circular economy may also have implications for how recalls are conducted. Regulators are likely to more closely examine how companies remove recalled textiles from the marketplace, and how they are disposing of them. This could lead to more specific guideline — potentially requiring companies to reuse any undamaged textiles and sustainably recycle any damaged products. Beyond recalls, regulators may encourage major retailers and manufacturers to collect used products to be recycled, repurposed or resold.
For those manufacturers looking to get a jump start on adopting a circular business model, start by taking a holistic look at your operations. What steps could you take to reduce how much water or petroleum you use in production? Could you incorporate different materials into your products that are easier to recycle? Does it make sense for your business to accept your used products from customers to recycle, reuse or repurpose them?
Building a circular business model will not be an easy task and will likely require an additional investment in training a skilled labour force. However, starting now will help companies establish a solid foundation by the time regulations arrive and can improve their brand reputation amongst an increasingly sustainability-minded consumer base.
While the EEA’s briefing includes no specific guidelines or rules, its existence, as well as the impending adoption of the EU strategy for sustainable textiles, indicates that policy is likely to follow. The EU has a long way to go to reach the goals of the European Green Deal and rulemaking bodies can be expected to ramp up regulations to achieve those goals. Textile manufacturers should pay close attention to the EEA’s briefing and watch for the release of the EU strategy for sustainable textiles so they can begin implementing circular business models.
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