The rule of three: concrete changes to ensure a quick, just transition to circular textiles

textiles
29 November 2022
The rule of three: concrete changes to ensure a quick, just transition to circular textiles

Did you know that a lot of the clothes you order and return for refund from the big online service providers end up in landfill or are burned instead of being reinserted into the online selling chain? It sounds absurd but it is the reality. 

The global textiles production continues to increase, and between 2000 and 2015 it almost doubled. Not surprisingly, this trend led - according to the European Environment Agency - to textiles having the fourth highest negative impact on the climate and the environment.

In addition, the fast fashion trend is jeopardising our common value of sufficiency and our dream of a more sustainable future. If we want to reach the European Green Deal objectives, we need a paradigm shift. And we need it now.

Addressing this challenge and as part of its Circular Economy Action Plan, last month the European Commission adopted its proposal for an EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles. The aim is to create a coherent framework for the green transition of the textiles sector and promote a new positive approach in our relationship with clothes.

The debate deeply affects regions and cities: it is they who are in charge of implementing and managing the waste system on the ground: they are key to completing circularity in their municipalities.

In order to make the proposal a success, the EU needs to involve regions and cities as soon as possible.

Our member and President of the Province of Lucca, Luca Menesini, is the rapporteur for the opinion presented at the plenary session (30 November-1 December 2022).

He led his own city, Capannori, to become the first zero-waste certified Italian municipality in Europe, thanks to a series of specific measures that he and his team put in place.

He took inspiration from the green transition he was experiencing and implementing on the ground, and brainstormed with progressive representatives from the other EU institutions and experts from EU progressive cities that are leading by example in the waste management and textiles sectors.

This seven-month long process led him to conclude that the Commission needs to cover three key points in its proposal.

 

Three progressive requests for an inclusive and affordable transition to circular textiles

What Europe needs is a new overall model for the textile products placed on the market: we must move from an extractive, linear production system to a regenerative, circular model.

This change of paradigm can be achieved through various measures that, ultimately, regional and local authorities will be responsible for implementing.

The three big changes needed are:

1. design for circularity - this concerns producers. It is up to the EU to set up binding requirements to design for circularity.

That means designing the product in a way that it can be easily repaired (and almost unbreakable) and recycled. These changes would extend the life cycle of textiles, thus reducing waste and production costs as well as environmental effects. 

Public consultation on textile waste collection strategies is also needed, and then measures must be designed to achieve targets.

 

2. the three “R”s: reuse, repair, recycle - this is the task of consumers. The EU and local municipalities are resolutely raising citizens' awareness to push them to learn how to repair their own items, proposing free repair cafés where there are expert volunteers who help people to repair their bike, their record player and things that are about to be thrown away. We need to find a way to better share and promote existing best practices for reuse and repair.

To encourage this lifestyle change, the EU must set up a strategy in close cooperation with local authorities that have the knowledge on the ground. One example is promoting regulatory incentives for climate-friendly practices.

 

3. tools to promote collaboration between different stakeholders - to improve textiles waste management and prevention. This can be done with by creating a culture of use and services rather than on ownership. For instance, by renting what you do not need on a daily basis, starting to take a look at second-hand shops, etc.

Second hand is becoming very fashionable and I think we should try to stimulate that. It is estimated that less than 1% of all textiles worldwide are recycled into new textiles. This is a huge waste of resources.” Executive Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, 2022

 

Three EU initiatives to strengthen

To support the implementation of sustainable transformation of the textiles sector in cities and regions, the EU must improve three core EU initiatives:

1. the Circular economy Action Plan - with a focus on the waste policy and the revision of the Waste Framework Directive.

There is the need to look more and better at waste prevention and reusing materials. Some ways to do this are by harmonising the criteria for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), including eco-design, according to circularity principles.

Another tool to improve is the Digital Product Passport, which allows citizens to gain easy access to information on the entire lifecycle of the product in order to be able to make a conscious choice.

2. the Sustainable Products Initiative - this promising initiative needs to be integrated with measures which ban the destruction of unsold articles and targets to prevent overproduction.

3. the REACH Regulation - we need greater harmonisation of the list of hazardous chemicals used in textile production, ensuring traceability and consumer safety.

 

Three benefits of cooperation between the EU and progressive regions and cities

The results of more concerted action by the EU and the involvement of local and regional authorities in creating a more feasible approach will have a direct positive impact on EU citizens and communities.

Here are three progressive achievements that this just and inclusive approach would bring:

1. innovation and strengthening of the local economic fabric through the promotion of regulatory tools and incentives by regional and local authorities. These authorities can make an important contribution by stimulating market demand for circular products and services, which in turn stimulates the emergence and development of circular and innovative business models.

2. promoting social enterprises active in the reuse sector will create local, sustainable and inclusive jobs. This also includes the gender dimension: right now, women make up the majority of the low-waged and unskilled textiles sector workforce. They would finally be taken into account.

3. better coordination between authorities for waste management and treatment, processing and reuse of materials, with a view to circular economy. Waste management is an area of responsibility for municipalities, whereas regulatory frameworks are often drawn up at regional level. Multilevel cooperation and coordination will result in better implementation.

The progressives have been working towards a circular economy era for a long time.

Likewise, PES Group members continue to lead by example, taking forward the commitment to a circular society and implementing best practices in their regions and municipalities.

Many other EU regions and cities can be inspired by Capannori’s progressive action and therefore need proper support from the Commission to help them become more circular.

And in this way, progressive cities and regions from all over the continent will go global!

 

© Photo credits: Freepik

 

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