Fashion&Textile: EU is calling for EPR, Extended Producer Responsibility
The ERP, together with the measures of the strategy for sustainable and circular textiles and the introduction of the digital product passport, shows the growing interest of the European Union in a thriving, but also sustainable and transparent textile and fashion industry.
In 2022, the European Commission proposed a mandatory Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) strategy for textile products to limit the generation of waste from Fast Fashion. But the problem of waste affects the entire textile and fashion industry and therefore requires more commitment from manufacturers. The main focus is on the export of textile waste to non-OECD countries, which will only be allowed 'under certain conditions’.
What is Extended Producer Responsibility?
The OECD defines Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) as “a market-based instrument used to promote total life cycle environmental improvements of product systems by extending the responsibilities of the manufacturer of the product to various parts of the product’s life cycle, and especially to the take-back, recovery, and final disposal of the product. This financial responsibility comes in the form of a levy that is integrated into the market price of the product.”
Simply put, EPR is a policy approach in which producers are given responsibility for the collection, reuse, and recycling of products at the end of their useful life. It aims to reduce waste by encouraging producers to design more sustainable, recyclable products that take into account their entire lifecycle.
By taking responsibility for the end-of-life of their products, producers are incentivised to reduce resource use and pollution. EPR also facilitates improved waste management by allowing them to take control of how their products are recycled, ensuring they don’t end up in landfill or exported to non-OECD countries.
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)
A policy approach in which producers are given responsibility for
the entire lifecycle of products, to reduce waste by encouraging the design of more sustainable, recyclable products.
What does this mean for fashion and textile companies?
The EPR already exists for other types of waste such as packaging, WEEE, and tires. Shortly, manufacturers of clothing, footwear, accessories, leather goods, and home textiles will also have to pay more attention to the end-of-life of their products.
It is clear that EPR has significant implications for fashion and textile companies, as producers must now be more aware of the environmental impact of their products throughout their lifecycles. The EPR requires that they are responsible not only for the costs and organisation of the collection of used textiles but also for preparing them for reuse or recycling from the design stage. This means that companies must be ready to include materials with higher recyclability and lower carbon footprints in their design process. Companies may also have to adjust existing production processes and find new ways for collecting used products.
Good practices that fashion and textile manufacturers can follow
- Preferring biocompatible textile fibres and natural materials;
- Eliminate components and substances hazardous to health or the environment (e.g. microplastics);
- Reduce the presence of defects in products that could lead consumers to quickly throw them away;
- Using fibres and fabric mixes so that products can be adaptable to multiple uses and repairable;
- Investing in research and development to be able to recover and recycle textile fibres from waste;
- Equip garments with digital labels containing information about the garment and its composition.
Why is EPR so important?
The European Environment Agency has published a report showing that in 20 years, textile waste exports from Europe have tripled, going mainly to Africa and Asia. However, once in the countries of destination, textile waste is not reused and often ends up in landfills. The report underlines that "The common public perception of used clothing donations as generous gifts to people in need does not fully correspond to reality”.
The paper draws on data from the United Nations between 2000 and 2019 and reports from individual EU countries. Thus, the amount of used textiles exported by the EU increased from just over 550,000 tonnes in 2000 to almost 1.7 million tonnes in 2019. An average of 3.8 kg per person, or 25% of the approximately 15 kg of textiles consumed in the EU each year.
In 2019, 46% of European used textiles reached Africa. Many of them entered local reuse, but many others ended up in open dumps and informal waste streams. In contrast, 41% of used textiles reached Asia. Here, some of them were processed and recycled into industrial rags and padding and then re-exported to other Asian countries or Africa. The rest ended up in landfills.
The already serious situation could worsen with the mandatory EPR. In fact, Europe has limited reuse and recycling capacities, so the number of used textiles exported could increase further.
The role of traceability and transparency
The role of traceability and transparency is critical to ensure that fashion and textile companies follow EPR guidelines. Traceability encompasses the capability to trace a product's lifecycle from its origin, detailing its ingredients and production methods. Transparency is the ability of customers (and authorities) to access these details to understand a company’s environmental commitment.
Companies can ensure transparency and traceability by equipping their garments with secure IDs. These are, for example, the digital labels containing information about the garment and its composition that we have already mentioned. Through these labels, companies can offer consumers information on what to do once they no longer want a garment instead of throwing it away. But they also have other advantages, such as protecting brands and consumers from counterfeiting, proving the authenticity of garments, and turning items into connected products that are also useful for marketing and customer engagement purposes.
The world of fashion and textiles is making great efforts to increase its sustainability. Recycling, reusing, reselling, and renting are just the main examples of circular fashion. Extended Producer Responsibility supports this trend.
As the Ellen MacArthur Foundation says: 'Diverting textiles from incineration or landfill and ensuring they are used more, is a significant step to reduce negative environmental impacts linked to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions'.