Recycled fabrics and fast fashion, the new EU strategy:

Recycled fabrics and fast fashion, the new EU strategy: “It will extend the life of the garments”

Making fabrics recyclable, extending the life of garments, studying them in such a way as to make them easier to dispose of, fighting counterfeiting and fast-fashion: all by 2030. The European Union approved its strategy for textiles on 31 March last, but the stages are many and they run until the end of the decade. It is divided into macro-themes, ranging from eco-design, to microplastics, to the destruction of unsold goods, up to the export of textile waste, but for now it is still only a strategy: from this moment on, a discussion on each measure will begin to establish and approve any future regulations. It will be a supply chain path, which will involve everyone, from producers to the governments of individual member states.

“We want fabrics to be made of recyclable fibers, without dangerous chemicals and to be produced in compliance with workers’ rights,” explains Commissioner for the Environment and Oceans Virginijus Sinkevicius

The strategy was endorsed as part of a package of proposals for the Green Deal “To make products sustainable, promote circular business models and empower consumers for the green transition”. The Commission has proposed a number of new rules with the aim of making almost all physical goods on the EU market more ‘environmentally friendly, circular and energy efficient throughout their life cycle, from the from design to daily use, reuse and end of life ». In addition to textiles, the Commission has also dealt with building materials and made a proposal on new rules to ’empower consumers in the green transition, so that consumers are better informed about the environmental sustainability of products and better protected against greenwashing “.

By 2030

“The EU strategy sets very clear steps for the textile sector by the end of the decade, by 2030,” explains Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for the Environment and Oceans.

«Our aim is to extend the life of textiles on the European market. We therefore want fabrics to be made of recyclable fibers, without dangerous chemicals and to be produced in compliance with workers’ rights. And we want consumers to benefit from high-quality fabrics for a long time. We will work to accelerate this transition with actions that touch the entire value chain and develop over time ».

Against fast fashion

“Fast fashion is out of fashion” is one of the slogans chosen for the European strategy for textiles. The clear reference is to the environmental repercussions of the numerous collections of clothes sold at low prices and made with often poor materials, most of the time destined for landfill. “We have announced very clearly that fast fashion is out of fashion,” continues Commissioner Sinkevičius. “And all the measures of the strategy are a way to distance producers and consumers from these unsustainable trends. The mandatory standards for textiles – sustainable and circular – together with the new rules on extended producer responsibility under the waste framework directive will be the springboard for a new alternative paradigm to fast fashion. I am convinced that this will benefit everyone by reducing the rate at which clothes turn into waste, saving consumers and making the textile sector more resilient “


The Commission will develop binding ecodesign requirements. The aim will be to “improve the performance of textiles in terms of durability, reusability, repairability, recyclability from fiber to fiber and mandatory content of recycled fibers, to minimize and trace the presence of hazardous substances and to reduce negative impacts on the climate. and the environment“. But why is product design so important, why isn’t it enough to talk about recycling and circularity without rethinking the way fabrics are created? “We have to look at the composition of the material, because it has an impact on recyclability. Often polyester is mixed with cotton and elastin, which serves to improve the performance of garments, can act as a contaminant in almost all fabric recycling technologies, ”continues Sinkevičius. «Today less than 1% of textile waste becomes a new fabric. So 99% are just waste. And while advanced recycling technologies need to be further developed, improving the design is certainly the first step in addressing the technical challenges. And the fibers used, their blending or the presence of chemicals that hinder the recycling of textile waste will therefore be important aspects to look at when developing performance and requirements under the new eco-design regulation. “

Key word “transparency”

“Transparency” will be one of the keywords of the new strategy. One of the most important tools designed to make buyers more aware will be the digital textile passport. “The first and most important function of the passport will be to provide information to consumers,” adds Sinkevičius. «The digital passport will contain more detailed information: it will have to be truly relevant to consumers and guide them to make sustainable choices. The Textile Labeling Regulation currently includes information on the fiber, its composition and any non-textile parts of animal origin. We are looking at the mandatory disclosure of other types of information regarding sustainability, circularity parameters, where the manufacturing process takes place and also the impact on the environment ».

Businesses towards transition

Companies and consumers will play an active role in shaping a more sustainable future for the fashion industry: “Companies will have to become champions of the paradigm shift in the context of the transition path and strive to facilitate the scalability of resources, efficient production processes , reduce, repair and other new circular business models in the textile sector, ”explains the Commissioner. “Social enterprises active in the circularity sector also have great potential to carry out local, green and inclusive activities. According to EU estimates, social enterprises create 20-35 jobs for thousands of tons of textile products collected for reuse ». But businesses will not be alone. “We have foreseen a number of actions to enable the transition: the adoption of a common roadmap for industrial technology on circularity, the criteria for circular manufacturing of clothing under the regulation on taxonomy and work on skills for the textile ecosystem as part of the European agenda and the renewed European alliance for apprenticeships starting from 2022 “.

The response of the associations

The publication of the strategy was long awaited and hoped for by civil society associations in the fashion world, which nevertheless welcomed the text with some perplexity: although they appreciated the work done in terms of eco-design and recycling, they require more attention in the future in terms of workers’ rights. “Today’s decision to include textiles in the Sustainable Products Initiative is a real milestone. We need clothes designed to be used, repaired and loved for a long time, free from toxic substances and produced in a fair and sustainable way “, commented Valeria Botta, of Environmental Coalition on Standards,” The initiatives presented today can give the right impetus to transform the market, beyond the European borders. If the final bill shows courageous ambition, we have the hope that Europe will truly ask the textile industry to account for its enormous environmental impacts ”. Currently, the EU is working on a directive on due diligence: «It is a fundamental issue, our proposal for a directive this year introduces horizontal due diligence. The timing will depend a lot on the discussions between the co-legislators, but it could realistically be adopted in two to three years “.

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