The global textiles industry is still operating an almost entirely linear system: it extracts large amounts of natural resources to make clothes that are used only a few times before becoming waste. In fact, less than 1% of what is produced is recycled into new textile and 87% is landfilled or incinerated. This wasteful use of resources is partly driven by an increasing in ‘fast’ fashion – over the last 15 years, the average number of times that we use a garment of clothing has dropped 36% while production of clothes has doubled .
The current textiles value chain is fundamentally unsustainable – from the environmental and social challenges of production through the high volumes and quick rate of consumption to the lack of robust means for retaining material value at the end of life.
Existing EU policy measures related to textiles focus on reducing the impacts of the linear system but fail to address the root causes of this enormous resource waste. In the transition to a more circular economy, the textiles industry therefore offers significant potential for improvement.
On March 28, Ecopreneur.eu launched a report proposing a strategy towards a more circular fashion industry in Europe. The report is based on the outcome of a workshop organised by Ecopreneur, the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform (ECESP) and the C&A Foundation, exploring how the transition to circular fashion can be accelerated by government policies in Europe. The workshop brought together representatives from different stakeholder groups, including IEEP.
The report urges that a policy mix to accelerate and mainstream a European circular fashion economy should be based on the following five pillars:
- Innovation policies – research programmes with subsidies, investment tax deduction, and support for technological development, innovation and small and medium-sized enterprises.
- Economic incentives – guidelines and rules for public procurement of textiles, extended producer responsibility schemes, differentiated VAT, and a tax shift to drive market demand for circular products and services.
- Regulation – establishing and enforcing a common regulatory framework for transparency and traceability, circular design and improved end-of-waste status across the EU.
- Trade policies – facilitating export of semi-finished products and sorted, reusable textile waste to producing countries, and avoiding negative social impacts in producing countries.
- Voluntary actions – covenants, commitments and standards are encouraged to engage stakeholders, with legislation standing by in case of lacking results.
The report is available here: https://ecopreneur.eu/publications/positionpapersreports/.
IEEP is currently working on several topics related to addressing the level of resource consumption in Europe and globally. An unsustainable level of consumption of goods and services in certain parts of the world is closely interlinked with – and a driver of – a majority of the sustainability challenges we are currently facing. Policy makers, companies and individuals all have a role in ensuring a rapid and profound transition towards increased material circularity and an absolute reduction in resource use if we are to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030.
For more information about IEEP’s work on textiles or consumption, please contact Mia Pantzar.
 Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2017) A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future. Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Cowes, UK.