ZWE calls for EU textile waste reduction targets

A report from Zero Waste Europe has revealed the emissions gap that the textile industry will face should no intervention be taken by governments towards decreasing the volume of textiles waste.

Textile wasteIn the report, Zero Waste Europe stresses that a majority of the textile industry’s global warming impact stems from the production phase and it urges a radical remodelling of the sector to prevent overproduction.

Accordingly, the report calls for long-lasting and better-quality textiles to mitigate the current production of ‘large volumes of essentially disposable items’.

The report also highlights the issues surrounding the disposal of textile waste. Just half of all waste is collected for reuse or recycling, with much of it being exported. The report stresses that, despite this, most textiles (87 per cent) are eventually incinerated or sent to landfill.

What is being done to rein in textile waste by the EU?

Globally, Europe is the top customer of apparel, with European purchases accounting for 34 per cent of all purchases worldwide. Annually, the average European consumes 26 kg of textiles whilst generating a further 11 kg of textiles waste.

World Resource Institute research unveils that continuing with a ‘business as normal’ approach, emissions caused by the textile industry will reach 1.588 GT by 2030, which is a far cry away from the 45 per cent reduction required by all sectors to reach the aims of the Paris Agreement.

The Zero Waste Europe report highlights that, though mentioned briefly as a strategy, one aspect that is neglected in the proposed revision of the Waste Framework Directive (WFD) is textile waste prevention – namely measures taken before a product becomes waste.

Whilst the WFD does mandate that all states shall take measures to prevent waste generation, it does not provide any quantitative targets to monitor progress. Accordingly, despite waste prevention programmes having existed for some time, it is difficult to prove a link to effects on waste generation.

The report stresses that approaches to textile waste following a ‘reduce’ pathway rather than a reuse or recycling approach always exhibit the lowest environmental impact. Though other pathways can contribute to lowering impact, ‘reduce’ pathways are the most reliable to ensure the industry’s alignment with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Commenting on this Theresa Mörsen, Waste & Resources Policy Officer at Zero Waste Europe, said: “Evidence shows that even with the foreseen interventions in the textile production chain, there is still a gap of almost 40 per cent of necessary emissions reductions to meet the 1.5 degrees target. This suggests that the only way forward is to reduce overproduction”

Legally-binding measures to reduce textiles waste

Zero Waste Europe stresses that voluntary measures towards trying to reduce the environmental impact of the textiles industry – such as awareness-raising campaigns – always fail to achieve their aims.

The report advocates for legally-binding measures – similar to other circular measures like recycling – to ensure that the environmental burden of the textiles industry, particularly in production, can be alleviated.

Zero Waste Europe recommends that qualitative waste prevention targets be implemented during the ongoing revision of the WFD, whilst developing specific indicators to measure this progress.

One feasible indicator that is proposed is to measure the weight of new textile products put on the market per capita annually.

Theresa Mörsen added: “Since member states’ waste prevention programmes have not delivered any tangible waste reduction over the past 10 years, we suggest setting concrete targets, starting with textile waste in the current revision of the Waste Framework Directive.

“We propose an overall reduction target for textile waste of at least one-third by 2040 in comparison to 2020. It is essential to set policy on the right trajectory for substantial waste reduction as soon as possible.”


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