Textiles EPR will accelerate circularity – environmentally & economically



James Beard of Reconomy’s Valpak delves into the implications of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) reforms, highlighting the blend of environmental urgency and economic opportunity they present in steering the textile industry towards a more circular and sustainable future.

Last month, The European Parliament debated proposals to prevent and reduce waste from textiles across the EU with members voting to introduce Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) reforms with very little opposition. 

Members voted for the European Commission’s proposals which include making companies cover the costs of collecting, sorting and reusing or recycling discarded textiles through EPR.  

This thereby provides incentives to design more eco-friendly products in the first place while member states will also need to invest in and extend their networks of collection and recycling infrastructure.

However, the European Parliament went further to suggest products are eco-modulated based on quantities, hauling footwear under the gaze of fee modulation and potentially setting 2032 textile waste reduction targets by 2025.

According to the EU, 12.6 million tonnes of textile waste are generated within member states every year.

It demonstrates the emerging international will and consensus to tackle the issue of textile waste which remains a huge headwind against accelerating the circular economy.

That is because textiles can be one of the main offenders when it comes to environmentally harmful materials. Not only can they be uniquely challenging to recycle due to their composition, but their production and disposal can be highly intensive, using up valuable finite resources such as water and energy.

According to the EU, 12.6 million tonnes of textile waste are generated within member states every year. Clothing and footwear alone account for 5.2 million tonnes of waste, equivalent to 12 kg of waste per person every year. Meanwhile, it is estimated that less than 1% of all textiles worldwide are recycled into new products.

Therefore, EPR schemes can offer evidence-based environmental benefits by shifting waste up the hierarchy enabling more re-use and recycling, less landfill and minimising both greenhouse gas emissions and water usage. 

However, to progress towards greater circularity, it is important that producers, the business community and government can also be convinced of clear economic benefits as there will inevitably be costs in complying with this regulation.

Bringing textiles into the scope of globally emerging EPR schemes provides businesses with a great opportunity to take stock of their legacy production and disposal methods in order to integrate cutting-edge technological solutions. Innovating in this area may not only safeguard their future growth but also minimise production costs and maximise revenues.  

Moreover, EPR will demand rapid innovation in the production of textiles to create compliant products or items that do not incur fees or substantial costs at end of life. This will inevitably drive demand for reusable, recyclable materials with knock-on opportunities within design, materials and manufacturing.

Textiles EPR is also likely to drive significant market opportunities within the recycling market as both investment and employment will be needed to create, maintain and improve member states’ infrastructure.

Alongside this infrastructure, companies and economies will have far greater need for data- and tech-led solutions that enable them to analyse behaviours and outcomes so that they can create efficiencies and reduce costs. 

Ultimately, the introduction of various EPR schemes across the globe is a clear direction of travel and one that producers and legislators must prepare for urgently.

The environmental case for delivering programmes for textiles is manifest. Winning the economic case may be more difficult but there are clear growth opportunities to drive greener, more circular economies – and this is a battle where we must win hearts and minds.

Send this to a friend