Circular and Sustainable Textiles

Fashion is one of the ways that human beings use to express themselves. Behind the red carpets, the fashion shows and the sales, there is a massive industry employing over 1.5 million people just in Europe. But the other side of the coin tells a different story, less shining and much more alarming.

The textile and clothing industry is one of the most polluting sectors, together with housing, transport, and food. This is caused by the strong impact it has on land use, water pollution and even greenhouse emissions. This sector has a high environmental and social impact in every phase: from production, to distribution, use, and after use (collection, sorting, recycling, and final waste management, which is most of the time related to incineration and landfills).

Discover below the main impacts on each phase of the value chain.

Production: natural resources use and greenhouse emissions

Textile and clothing are the fourth higher pressure category in terms of use of primary raw material and water. For instance, a pair of jeans necessitates of 7.000 litres, while a t-shirt needs 2.700 litters of water which equals to the consumption in drinkable water of a person in 2,5 years.

The production process generates around 15-35 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per tonne of textiles produced. The upstream value chain of clothing, footwear and household textiles consumed in the EU is the fifth highest greenhouse gas emission pressure category.

Environmental impacts in the production phase are also linked to the cultivation and production of natural fibres (cotton, hemp, and linen) in terms of land and water use, fertilisers and pesticides; but also to the production of synthetic fibres (polyester and elastane) related to energy use and chemical feedstock.

In addition to the strong environmental impacts, this sector is also linked to world-spread social impacts, in terms of rates of pay, working conditions, and working environments in textile factories. It’s still challenging for some regions avoiding suppliers outside Europe that use child labour.

Consumption: demand and microplastic

Textile is a relevant sector for the EU economy, in terms of turnover, employing and companies working on it. In 2019, Europeans spent on average €600 on clothing, €150 on footwear and €70 on household textiles. This had a decrease in 2020 due to the Covid19 pandemic and all the stay-at-home restrictions in terms of clothing and footwear but it had a slightly increase for the household textiles.

The use and the maintenance – when the textile is bought and reached the consumers – (without considering all the transport phase) requires energy and water use but also detergents. Through washing, chemicals and microfibres are emitted into the wastewater. When washed, textiles are responsible for 35% of primary microplastic in the ocean, which equals to 50 billion bottles of plastic.

After use: waste disposal and recycling

Every year, on average, each European consumes 26 kg of textiles, of which 11 kg are discarded after being worn only 7-8 times. When these cloths or textiles are thrown away in Europe, 87% are incinerated or end up in landfills, while only 10% stays on the market as second-hand (Labfresh, 2020).

In order to reply to this, the European Parliament approved the Waste Framework Directive, which imposes to the Member States to apply in their cities a selective collection of textile waste by 2025.

Based on all the data collected about the impacts of textiles, the European Green Deal, the Circular Economy Action Plan and the Industrial Strategy identified textiles as a priority sector in which the EU can pave the way towards a carbon neutral, circular economy, and announced an EU Strategy on textiles. The new Commission strategy also includes measures to support circular material and production processes, tackle the presence of hazardous chemicals and help consumers to choose sustainable textiles.

The role of the European Week for Waste Reduction

The 2022 edition of the European Week of Waste Reduction will focus on textile to highlight the strong impact it has on our planet but, mainly, to inspire actions that will bring more circularity into the textile sector.

On this page you will find inputs, useful links, and factsheets to raise awareness on the huge role played by the textile sector on climate changes and on how each of us can contribute to reduce the waste produced by this sector. Not only citizens as consumers can have an impact on this by, for instance, changing their way of using and buying clothes. Public authorities, private companies and NGOs can be protagonists in the transition to a more circular textile industry by promoting, supporting and guiding new solutions of production, use, disposal, and reuse of the textile.

Get inspired!
  • Close the loop, a guide towards a circular fashion industry.
  • MAD tools, promotion of Brussels creative entrepreneurs and players in the fashion and design sector.
  • Quiz on consumer’s behavior (in French)
  • Textile action Network, uses the principles of a circular economy to re-shape the production, consumption, and disposal of textiles.
  • Love Your Clothes’ campaign aims to raise awareness of the value of clothes and encourage people to make the most of the clothes they already have.
  • Good Clothes Fair Pay is a European Citizens’ Initiative to call on the European Commission to introduce legislation requiring that brands and retailers in the garment sector conduct specific due diligence in their supply chain to ensure workers are paid living wages.
  • The Catalan Circular Fashion Pact, an open, transversal, and innovative initiative to transform the textile sector, guided by the Catalan Government and many agents of the textile value chain. The involved actors undertake to work together to achieve the objectives of the Pact.
  • The Share and Repair Network is a Scottish initiative to help local communities reduce consumption by offering sustainable and affordable alternatives to buying new. Find Sharing Libraries that allow customers to borrow an item instead of buying one new and Repair Projects to help customers to fix an item, instead of throwing it away!
Poster

You can download below the thematic poster on circular and sustainable textiles. Use it to inspire others to take action for the EWWR! The poster is also available translated in the other EWWR languages: Catalan, Estonian, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Swedish, Turkish, Slovenian

Factsheets and infographics

The under side of my look (by ADEME)

The EU Textile Strategy (First published by the European Union, 2022 ©European Union, 2022)

10 key words to embrace a circular transition for textiles

Card Game on Circular and Sustainable textiles

Digital game on Circular and Sustainable textiles

Videos

Share these videos to promote a new circular future for the textile sector and to raise the motto “Waste is out of fashion!”