It is well known that the mass of textile waste is a difficult problem to solve. It is necessary to intensify recycling and reuse practices, but what if we could reduce the phenomenon at the source, i.e. by intervening on production?
However, without putting the textile sector in difficulty which, as is known, provides work to millions of families in the world. It is certainly a theme that will accompany us in the years to come because it will not be easy to turn the tide and change consolidated business and consumption models such as fast fashion.
As regards textile waste, the European Union generates 12.6 million tons of waste per year, of which 5.2 million comes from clothing and footwear (12 kilos of waste per person). Currently only 22 percent of post-consumer textile waste is collected separately for reuse or recycling, while the rest is often incinerated or landfilled.
With the proposal of 30 March 2022, the EU Commission has clearly set the objective of moving the fashion industry beyond fast fashion, an organizational model which not only pushes consumers to buy irresponsibly but which over the years has pushed brands to increase the number of collections, worsening the quality of the garments and decreasing consumer prices (dropped by 30% between 1996 and 2018). Aspects that have the effect of reducing the life of the garments and quickly transforming them into waste that is difficult to reuse and recycle due to the low quality of the materials.
In summary: overproduction and loss of quality of the goods produced – together with the lack of critical sense of consumers – are the powerful mix underlying the now continuously growing volumes of textile waste. Therefore we need to act on the upstream phase of the phenomenon: production and sale. And it may still not be enough: according to the World Resource Institute based on business-as-usual growth projections and despite the possible interventions (maximizing the efficient use of materials, technologies and processes with lower environmental impact, energy efficiency and renewable energy), emissions will increase to 1,588 Gt by 2030, well below the pace to achieve the 45% absolute reduction needed across all sectors to limit warming to the Paris Agreement goal.
The need for a more directive approach is supported by Zero Waste Europe (the initiative supported by the EU which connects an international network of NGOs and organizations committed to the diffusion of the circular economy) in the recent document T(h)reading a path. Towards textiles waste prevention targets which asks the EU to introduce a textile waste reduction target as part of the revision of the Waste Framework Directive.
Specifically, they propose an overall reduction objective of textiles by at least a third (33%) by 2040 compared to 2020. Since polyester is the most used material (approximately 60% of the fibers used globally) and its recycling is critical, it study suggests setting the goal of reducing its use by 40% by 2040 compared to 2020 and replacing it with new generation materials (example: biopolymers).
It is also proposed to develop specific indicators to measure and monitor waste reduction consistent with the priorities established by the EU itself.