In March 2022, the European Commission published a communication entitled ‘EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles’. The document has a wide scope and long-term orientation expected to significantly change the ways textiles are designed, produced and used in the European Union over the coming years. Its ultimate objective is defined in the following vision: “By 2030 textile products placed on the EU market are long-lived and recyclable, to a great extent made of recycled fibres, free of hazardous substances and produced in respect of social rights and the environment. Consumers benefit longer from high-quality affordable textiles, fast fashion is out of fashion, and economically profitable re-use and repair services are widely available. In a competitive, resilient and innovative textiles sector, producers take responsibility for their products along the value chain, including when they become waste. The circular textiles’ ecosystem is thriving, driven by sufficient capacities for innovative fibre-to-fibre recycling, while the incineration and landfilling of textiles are reduced to the minimum.”
The ultimate goal is to ensure that the growing impact of textile production and consumption on climate change, global resource utilisation and environmental degradation is halted or even reversed. To achieve this, the volume of textile products produced for and consumed in the EU should be reduced and the use of the resources needed should be optimised and decarbonised as much as possible.
Lowering production and consumption footprint can be achieved in many ways:
During raw material extraction and sourcing, the use of more sustainable, resource-efficient farming practices for natural fibres or the use of bio-based feedstocks for man-made fibres can significantly reduce fossil resource extraction, greenhouse gas emissions, soil degradation, water scarcity or pollution.
In production and processing of textile materials, the use of energy-efficient processes powered by renewable energy, the reduction and recovery of process water or chemicals, the use of more sustainable, largely bio-based processing chemistry and the avoidance of production waste are the most urgent strategies.
During the design and manufacturing of end products such as clothing, sports goods, interior or technical textile products, sustainable strategies include eco-design practices, material and manufacturing choices that ensure quality, durability, repairability and recyclability of products. Also, they comprise the choice of sourcing and manufacturing locations with minimum logistics and highest manufacturing efficiency in terms of energy consumption and waste minimisation.
Along the supply chain all the way to the end user, resource impacts can be reduced by:
Greater sustainability during purchase and use can be facilitated through:
At the end of the product life cycle, effective collection and sorting systems must ensure that all textile waste is recovered and fed into the highest value, lowest impact recycling or recovery channel.
To accomplish all these opportunities for a more sustainable and circular textile economy in Europe, European policymakers are expected to adopt a broad range of legislation and support policies over the coming years that will restrict unsustainable practices. These practices include incineration and landfilling of textile waste, use of hazardous substances and pollution during textile production, volume-based business models such as fast fashion or socially unacceptable labour conditions. At the same time, sustainable practices will be incentivised and innovation across the value chain will be fostered through direct financial support, fiscal incentives or green public procurement.
This impactful transition must be successfully achieved by a manufacturing industry that directly employs over 1.5 million workers in the EU and is predominantly composed of small and medium-sized companies. The knowledge, tools and services needed by these companies have to be developed, standardised and transferred to the industry complete with training programmes and investment incentives.
The European Commission is currently facilitating a stakeholder process entitled Textile Transition Pathway to define the most important issues, needs and actions to support the industry in this green (and digital) transition. A final report detailing the actions and policies to be adopted by EU and member states is expected in early 2023.
The TRICK project develops a suite of tools and services that targets the needs of these thousands of SMEs in the European textile and fashion sector that must make their business processes sustainable and circular.
The TRICK tools are being developed by technical experts in close collaboration with industry end users to guarantee effectiveness, reliability, and user-friendliness for a rapid adoption even by small companies with limited in-house expertise or financial resources.
The data storage and transfer of these tools will be secured by blockchain technology to ensure secure traceability in a supply chain that is highly complex and prone to abusive or illegal practices for cost-saving or greenwashing purposes.
At the end of the TRICK project, all services will have been pilot-tested and should be ready for commercial roll-out in time for most of the legislations related to the EU textile strategy such as mandatory separate textile waste collection, binding product-specific eco-design requirements, a mandatory digital product passport or ecolabel to come into force in the years 2024-2026.