The textile sector produces immense amounts of waste. In order to reduce the environmental impact of the sector as a whole, this waste must also be disposed of correctly. It has already been planned that all EU Member States would have to introduce the separate collection of textiles by 1 January 2025. In the summer, the EU Commission specified the implementation of this plan in a further proposal for a directive. This is the subject of a current AK EUROPA position paper.
The revision of the Waste Frame Directive on 30 May 2018 already stipulated the introduction of the separate collection of textile waste. On 5 July, the EU Commission proposed regulations to harmonise the management of textile waste in the EU to a greater extent. In line with the EU Strategy for sustainable and circular textiles, the European Green Deal, the Circular Economy Action Plan and the European industrial strategy, incentives are to be created to reduce the volume of waste and increase the circularity of textiles. In doing so, the EU Commission not only wants to reduce the environmental and climate impact of the textile sector. Jobs are also to be created in the EU and consumers are to benefit from lower costs.
The EU Commission proposal from 05.07.2023 contains regulations to make the production, use and disposal of textiles more sustainable. This goal is to be achieved by introducing Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). Manufacturers are thus required to assume greater responsibility for the entire life cycle of textile products. Eco-modulated EPR fees would automatically create an incentive to avoid waste and increase the recyclability of products. According to the EU Commission plans, this would also promote the reuse and recycling of textiles within the EU.
Background: Environmental problem in the textile sector
Regulations to combat textile waste are crucial for a just green transition. A few statistics: In 2019, 12.6 million tonnes of textile waste was generated in the EU, of which 10.9 million tonnes was post-consumer waste. This includes everything from clothing and shoes to furniture. Clothing and shoes account for an impressive 5.2 million tonnes of waste, or 12 kg per person per year. 78% of this waste is not collected separately. And of the little waste that is collected separately, only 8% is recycled. The environmental impact associated with the production of textiles consumed in the EU is largely generated outside the EU: Not only do 80% of the raw materials and 88% of the water required come from third countries. Similarly, 73% of greenhouse gas emissions for textiles consumed in the EU are generated outside the EU. The fact that the costs of our consumption are borne by others, also becomes clear if one looks at the working conditions in the textile industry and the export of textile waste.
Waste management targets necessary
These figures show how important it is to deal with and to avoid textile waste in a sustainable manner. Nevertheless, AK is critical of the EU Commission proposal. In the past, the use of EPR systems has led to the formation of cartels and anti-competitive practices. Furthermore, it is not yet clear whether a further separate collection of used textiles - in addition to the ReUSE collections – which still need to be improved – makes any sense at all. The EU Commission's idea of collecting ReUSE goods for recycling together with soiled used textiles, for example, is unrealistic and undermines ReUSE. Instead of rushing into EPR systems, the European level should concentrate on setting more detailed waste management targets for the Member States. This would give Member States the opportunity to analyse the initial situation in their own country, implement suitable measures - and learn from old mistakes instead of repeating them.
Responsibilities of the public sector
The top priority must first be to improve the environmental performance of textiles over their entire life cycle, to contribute to a reduction in waste volumes through eco-design and to reduce fast fashion overall. As reducing the quantity of textile products sold is not in the interest of manufacturers, the path proposed by the EU Commission will not be able to overcome this challenge. Providing information and raising awareness about sustainability, reuse and waste prevention is a public sector responsibility, which requires not only sufficient human and financial resources but also more intensive cooperation with consumer organisations. Socio-economic businesses too, which play an important role in the collection for re-use purposes, must not become dependent on EPR systems. Where and how EPR systems are used must be determined by the competent authorities. This is the only way to ensure that a just green transition succeeds and that no one is left behind.
AK EUROPA Position Paper: Amendment to the Waste Framework Directive - Focus on the textile sector
EU Commission: Circular economy for textiles: taking responsibility to reduce, reuse and recycle textile waste and boosting markets for used textiles
ETUI: EU waste legislation: current situation and future developments
AK EUROPA:Fashion consumption: Workers and the environment bear the costs
AK EUROPA: (Sustainable) fashion consumption in Austria: a high level of awareness, but potential to do more
AK EUROPA:Circular economy: Promoting green and fair consumption
AK EUROPA: Strengthening the promotion of product sustainability
AK EUROPA : AK consumer study proves great interest in sustainability