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The New Circular Economy Action Plan

The EU directive on sustainable textile products.

In March 2020, the European Commission adopted the New Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP), as part of the European Green Deal, the agenda for sustainable growth.
The need to switch to an environmentally and socially sustainable -still competitive- economy comes from simple, but disturbing, evidence.
As reported in the official document of the New Circular Economy Action Plan:

 There is only one planet Earth, yet by 2050, the world will be consuming as if there were three.

Therefore, the green EU transition towards a circular economy aims to reduce the use of natural resources without affecting economic growth. The ultimate goal is climate neutrality by 2050.

The role of the textile industry

Every year, businesses within the EU produce 2.5 billion tons of waste, while each citizen produces almost half a ton of waste. In particular, citizens throw away 11 kg of textile products every year.
At the same time, global textile production nearly doubled between 2000 and 2015, but clothing and footwear consumption is expected to increase by 63% by 2030. Unfortunately, less than 1% of all textile products in the world are recycled.

In addition, the textile industry ranks fourth for consumption of raw materials and water, and fifth for greenhouse gas emissions.
In this context, it is clear that textiles are one of the products on which the New Circular Economy Action Plan focuses most.
The EU wants to increase the competitiveness and innovation of the sector by favoring circular economic models. This means many things. For example, discourage Fast Fashion production and encourage the reuse of textile products.

The new Circular Economy Action Plan

In particular, the CEAP plans to:

  •  design environmentally friendly textile products which are, from the beginning, suitable for circularity; enforce a minimum content of recycled fibers; use secondary (i.e. recycled) raw materials that are free of hazardous chemicals;

  • support new manufacturing procedures, such as pre-washing of manufacturing plants to minimize the unintended release of micro-plastics and other substances;

  • give businesses and citizens the opportunity to consciously choose sustainable textile products; create a digital product passport to ensure transparency;

  • review regulation regarding sustainable and circular textile products in the EU; provide economic incentives to favor circular materials and production processes, transparency, separate collection, and international cooperation;

  •  encourage the reuse, repair and recycling of textiles;

  • ban the destruction of unsold products.

Waste, sustainability and circular economy 

The New Circular Economy Action Plan includes legislative and non-legislative measures that affect the entire life cycle of products. Disposal is also part of this cycle.
A circular and sustainable economy is based on recycling and reuse. In this sense, the EU plans to introduce obligations regarding recycled content in products.
In addition, the EU wants to review the legislation on the export of waste. These exports have negative effects on the environment and health in the destination countries. Moreover, they represent a waste of resources and economic opportunities for the European recycling industry.

As regards the textile industry, Europe plans to follow two directions:

  • Allow the export of textile waste to non-OECD countries only under certain conditions.
    These conditions will be defined in the future. In any case, recipient countries should inform the EU Commission about their wish to import waste and demonstrate their ability to manage it sustainably. To prevent the illegal trafficking of waste by labeling it as second-hand goods, the EU will establish new criteria to accurately distinguish waste. The trade-in used textiles will be better regulated.

  • Discourage Fast Fashion.
    Fast Fashion encourages the purchase of short-lived clothes, generating an excessive amount of waste. The European Union wants to encourage the production of durable, reusable, repairable and recyclable clothing. As already seen, this is possible by designing the product properly, but also by reducing the number of collections.

Therefore, textile companies will have to follow mandatory design requirements to ensure sustainable and circular products. These will extend the life of the clothing. Together with the new rules on waste management, companies will set a new paradigm alternative to fast-changing fashion trends.

The new Circular Economy Action Plan

A cultural change behind the New Circular Economy Action Plan 

The adoption of a circular economy is necessary to ensure the sustainability of production activities. This is true both from an environmental and an economic point of view. In fact, consumers have become much more attentive to environmental protection. Many of them expect brands, especially in luxury, to be aware of their ecological footprint and to commit to reducing it. The same goes for their supply chain.
Furthermore, the EU believes that, thanks to the single market and digital technologies, the circular economy can strengthen industries and encourage the creation of new businesses. This will create new innovative jobs and spread knowledge and skills.
In other words, the New Circular Economy Action Plan heralds both profound economic and cultural change.

Frans Timmermans, Vice President of the European Commission said to Ansa:

Taking a look at what the big fashion brands and the most important designers are doing, they are already changing design. They have already understood that we are in a different world. 
Sustainability "is necessary but it is also wanted by the consumer, especially those who can afford to pay higher prices for better products. I, therefore, believe that there is also a cultural change that we must stimulate with European legislation.

According to the European Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevicius, the new regulation for sustainability in the textile industry should be ready by 2024.

25 May 2022

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