Ahead of the European Union (EU) strategy for sustainable and circular textiles, the EEA has published a briefing to examine measures that can reduce the negative life cycle impact on climate change for textiles and apparel, including resource use, greenhouse gas emissions and microplastic pollution. 

The briefing titled: ‘Textiles and the environment: the role of design in Europe’s circular economy,’ released on 10 February, outlines how circular business models and smarter design can be used to reduce the environmental impact from textiles and clothing. Measures to improve product durability, repairability and recyclability and to ensure the uptake of secondary raw materials in new products, is also proposed. 

Key takeaways from the briefing: 

  • In 2019, the EU textile and clothing sector had a turnover of EUR162bn (US$184bn), employing over 1.5 million people across 160,000 companies. As was the case in many sectors, between 2019 and 2020, the Covid crisis decreased turnover by 9% for textiles as a whole and by 17% for clothing. 
  • In 2020, textile consumption in Europe had on average the fourth highest impact on the environment and climate change from a global lifecycle perspective. It was the consumption area with the third highest impact on water and land use, and the fifth highest in terms of raw material use and greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • To reduce the environmental impacts of textiles, a shift towards circular business models, including circular design, is crucial. This will need technical, social and business model innovation, as well as behavioural change and policy support. 
  • Circular design is an important enabler of the transition towards sustainable production and consumption of textiles through circular business models. The design phase plays a critical role in each of the four pathways to achieving a circular textile sector: longevity and durability; optimised resource use; collection and reuse; and recycling and material use. 

A previous briefing ‘Textiles in Europe’s circular economy‘ published in 2019, also called for a wide-scale shift towards a circular economy in textiles production and consumption.