Circular economy

“A circular economy is a systemic approach to economic development designed to benefit businesses, society, and the environment. In contrast to the 'take-make-waste' linear model, a circular economy is regenerative by design and aims to gradually decouple growth from the consumption of finite resources”, zo luidt de definitie van de Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

In a circular economy, there is an efficient use of raw materials and energy, a greater awareness of consumption and the focus may be more on the use of services and less on the possession of goods.

A nice example of a brand that focuses on use and not ownership is Mud Jeans, available at various COSH! shops. With their Lease A Jeans you can rent one of the beautiful sustainable jeans for 12 months. A sharing economy is also striving for a circular economy, so it is certainly worth informing yourself about the various concepts that arise around this. Click here to learn more about alternative clothing concepts and clothing libraries.

Clarifying the circular economy with the help of MVO Vlaanderen

In a biological cycle you have a circular system -'in which residual materials after use flow safely back into nature'- and the technical cycle -'for which product(s) are designed and marketed in such a way that they can be reused at a high quality level'-. Both ensure that materials remain in a constant loop and retain their value.

Cradle to cradle

Are you curious about how companies can follow a path to circularity? One of the principles is cradle to cradle with the aim of achieving a waste-free society. Companies can apply for certification, and this also makes it clear where they stand in terms of preventing waste. The levels are Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. However, there are many companies that work as well as possible on cradle to cradle across the entire business line, but cannot afford the expensive cradle to cradle certification. On the other hand, big brands do pay for the certification of one product from their huge range. After this the brands launch an excessive advertising campaign to put that one product in the spotlight. The unwary consumer quickly thinks that the certification applies to several products, but this is anything but the case. For example, C&A offers 28 cradle-to-cradle products out of a range of more than 10,000 products for women, men and children. Yet it is mainly the 'more sustainable' products that are advertised outside the shop. In the shop, there is sometimes very little information about them.

So what does circularity look like for Belgium and Flanders in concrete terms? In a transition scenario, Flanders could save EUR 3.4 billion in material costs by supporting the transition to the circular economy. Textiles will also play an important role in this.

For this transition to a circular economy, global frameworks have already been created, such as the SDGs. Especially SDG 9 and 12 are in line with the circular economy approach. SDG 12 deals with responsible production and consumption. SDG 9 deals with building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and stimulating innovation.

Which role will the EU play on the way to a Circular Economy in the field of textile and the enormous waste pile this brings?

The Circular Economy Action Plan -introduced by the European Commission in March 2020- is a big part of the very important European Green Deal (the European Union's new agenda for sustainable growth). The Action Plan aims to implement initiatives across the product lifecycle, from design to waste. The Action Plan includes legislative and non-legislative measures.

This action plan was introduced because:

'global consumption of materials is expected to double over the next 40 years, while the amount of waste produced annually is expected to increase by 70% by 2050. Half of total greenhouse gas emissions and over 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress are due to resource extraction and processing'

One of the objectives of the action plan is to ensure less waste! Six of the actions linked to the action plan are about "less waste, more value". Very applicable to textiles since this is one of the sectors that needs a lot of resources and would have a great impact in case of circularity. The action plan consists of 35 actions.

In the same context, in February 2021 the European Union adopted a resolution calling for additional measures to achieve a carbon-neutral, sustainable, toxic-free and fully circular economy by 2050. The resolution includes stricter recycling regulations and binding targets for material use and consumption and the consumption footprint.

The European Parliament also plays an important role. It urges the Commission to propose new legislation in 2021, extending the scope of the Ecodesign Directive to non-energy related products. This should set product-specific standards so that products placed on the EU market perform well, are durable and reusable, can be easily repaired, are non-toxic, can be upgraded and recycled, contain recycled content and are resource and energy efficient. Other important recommendations are explained here.

In the plenary debate, MEPs also stressed that achieving the Green Deal targets will only be possible if the EU makes the transition to a circular economy model, and that this change will create new jobs and business opportunities. Existing legislation on waste must be implemented more thoroughly, and further measures are needed for key sectors and products, such as textiles, plastics, packaging and electronics, MEPs added.

One of the actions of the circular economy action plan is the EU textile strategy. We will discuss it below in more detail.

Overall EU textile strategy

What exactly does this strategy entail and what is its purpose?

The sustainable framework for the textile industry provides measures that ensure that textile products are suitable for circularity, the production process uses secondary raw materials and bans hazardous chemicals. It encourages businesses and consumers to opt for sustainable textiles and easy access to reuse and repair services.

A better corporate and regulatory framework for sustainable and circular textiles supports product-as-service models, circular raw materials and production processes. An international cooperation that contributes to more transparency.

The European Union obliges all member states to collect textile waste separately from household waste by 2025. Consumers will be able to have their textile waste collected in a separate bag at home, just like they sort residual waste or PMD, instead of having to go to the container park. This will make it even easier to recycle worn, used clothing.

How will this be organised and regulated? What impact will this have on the current chain?

EPR(extended producer responsibility) may also be important here. It is a concept that would ensure that companies still have a responsibility for what happens to their products after they have been sold. It is the "polluter pays" principle that may be applied.g For textiles, there is currently only one country, France, that has EPR regulations. Refashion has been appointed to manage the EPR. French companies selling textiles or shoes can create an internal clothing programme themselves, or pass on this responsibility to Eco TLC in return for payment.

The Netherlands also wants to take steps towards an EPR for textiles through national legislation. From 2023 onwards, instead of municipalities, clothing producers will be responsible for collecting and recycling the used clothing. There is also the demand from countries to develop a general legislation from the EU for this UPV (Extended Producer Responsibility).

What could be the consequences after the introduction of the EPR on the production of textiles? The whole economic and business model will have to be rethought. An economic model that gives attention to this is the donut economy. Kate Raworth, the creator of the donut economy, explains in her book that a transition can only have real impact if it is done from a global perspective. We see this very clearly when dealing with the residual fractions of textiles.

This could provide an answer to the residual fractions of both private and social players.

The EU believes that "the strategy will strengthen industrial competitiveness and innovation in the sector. This in turn will boost the EU market for sustainable and circular textiles, including the market for textile reuse, tackle fast fashion and drive new business models."

Recycling legislation

The EU has also decided that from 2025 onwards, every item of clothing must consist of 25% recycled material. We at COSH! realise that there is still a lot of work to be done. Why? You can read about it here!

Circular Textiles Chain

The working group, Circular Textiles Chain, was started by NEN (Stichting Koninklijk Nederlands Normalisatie Instituut) from the idea that there is a need 'to be able to talk and report about circular textiles in a uniform way'.

A Dutch Technical Agreement was written: NTA 8195 'Circular Textiles - Requirements and Categories'. This standard and its hoped-for impact is described as 'requirements and categories of circular textile products and setting requirements for input streams and applied circular strategies. In this way, circular textiles can be communicated and reported on in a uniform way. Uniform agreements on circular textiles, at a European level, are necessary to avoid 'greenwashing', to reduce waste streams and to limit the use of 'virgin' raw materials.

So another very strong initiative that recognises the importance of global and clear cooperation and regulation.