European Strategy for Sustainable Textiles


The production and consumption of textile products continues to grow and so does their impact on climate, water, and energy consumption and on the environment as a whole. Global textile production almost doubled between 2000 and 2015, and the consumption of clothing and footwear is expected to increase by 63% by 2030, from 62 million tonnes now to 102 million tonnes in 2030.  

About 5.8 million tonnes of textiles are discarded every year in the EU, approximately 11kg per person, and every second somewhere in the world, a truckload of textiles is landfilled or incinerated. This is why The European Green Deal, the Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP), and the Industrial Strategy identified textiles as a priority sector in which the EU can pave the way towards a carbon neutral circular economy, and announced an EU Strategy for textiles specifically. In the Commission Staff Working Document ‘Identifying Europe's recovery needs’, which accompanied the Communication ‘Europe’s moment: Repair and Prepare for the Next Generation’, the Commission outlined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the industrial ecosystem for textiles in the EU, identifying its recovery needs in the light of current and expected weaknesses on both the demand and supply sides. This strategy will help the EU shift towards a climate-neutral circular economy where products are designed to be more durable, reusable, repairable, recyclable, and energy-efficient. 

The aim of the initiative is to set in place a comprehensive framework to create conditions and incentives to boost the competitiveness, sustainability, and resilience of the EU textile sector, taking into account its strengths and vulnerabilities, after a long period of restructuring delocalisation, and addressing its environmental and social impacts. It will ensure coherence and complementarity with initiatives under the European Green Deal, the Circular Economy Action Plan, the Industrial Strategy and the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. 

The initiative will facilitate and encourage an optimal use of the recovery plan and sustainable investments. In particular, in production processes: design, new materials, new business models, infrastructure and capacity. Support to technologies through digitalisation, related to innovative textiles, tackling the release of microplastics, manufacturing and recycling processes will contribute to the digital and green transition. 

To boost the EU market’s transition towards sustainable and circular textiles, the initiative might consider setting targets to significantly increase the  reuse and recycling efforts as well as green public procurement in the EU. These objectives will be considered through a structured engagement with the industrial ecosystem and other stakeholders (i.e. research and innovation, consumer associations, investment companies, Member States, civil society), to allow their swifter achievement, and to contribute to the monitoring of the subsequent implementation of the initiative. 

The initiative itself will propose actions to make the textile ecosystem fit for the circular economy, addressing weaknesses regarding sustainable production, sustainable lifestyles, presence of substances of concern, improving textile waste collection and recycling in the Member States as well as capacity building (also for skills). The initiative will do so by identifying textile-specific and horizontal actions along the whole value chain. Taking into account the preparation of the Sustainable Products Initiative, the initiative will underline possible approaches to  improve design for sustainability (ensuring the uptake of secondary raw materials and tackling the presence of hazardous chemicals, among others), facilitating its future implementation. The initiative will also propose actions to promote more sustainable production processes. In addition, the initiatives will look into supporting more sustainable lifestyles, for instance by incentivising ‘product as a service’ and other sustainable business models. The initiative will promote voluntary approaches such as the EU Ecolabel and look into maximising the synergies within the New Consumer Agenda12 and the Bauhaus initiative. The role of the extended producer responsibility in promoting sustainable textiles and treatment of textile waste in accordance with the waste hierarchy will also be considered, and the implementation of the legal obligation to introduce separate collection of waste textiles by 2025 will be supported. Finally, the initiative will explore how to reinforce the protection of human rights, environmental duty of care and due diligence across value chains, including improving traceability and transparency. It will steer international cooperation and partnerships, including aid for trade, towards more sustainable consumption and production patterns, including in terms of land and water use and the employment of chemicals. 

In order to achieve all these objectives, the European Strategy for Sustainable Textiles has set the following key actions for sustainable and circular textiles, most of them aimed to be set in place before 2024.  

  1. Mandatory performance requirements for the environmental sustainability of textile products 
  2. Digital Product Passport for textiles with information requirements on environmental sustainability 
  3. Mandatory requirements concerning green public procurement and Member State incentives 
  4. Disclosure of the number of discarded products by large enterprises and their subsequent treatment, and measures on banning the destruction of unsold textiles 
  5. Empowering consumers in the green transition and ensuring the reliability of green claims 
  6. Review of the Textile Labelling Regulation and considering the introduction of a digital label 
  7. Revision of the EU Ecolabel criteria for textiles and footwear 
  8. Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules for apparel and footwear 
  9. Initiative to address the unintentional release of microplastics from textile products 
  10. Review of the Best Available Techniques Reference Document for the Textiles Industry 
  11. Enforcing the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive in the textile sector 
  12. Extended Producer Responsibility requirements for textiles with eco-modulation of fees and measures to promote the waste hierarchy for textile waste 
  13. Launch of work on the setting of preparing for re-use and recycling targets for textiles 
  14. Enforcing the restrictions on exports of textile waste outside the OECD and developing criteria for distinguishing waste from second-hand textile products 
  15. Launch of the Transition Pathway for the Textiles Ecosystem 
  16. Guidance on supporting uptake and partnerships for the circular economy between social enterprises and other actors, including in the textile sector 
  17. Guidance on circular economy business models featuring the textile sector 
  18. Launch of #ReFashionNow 
  19. New European Bauhaus to support sustainable textiles 
  20. Horizon Europe calls to support R&D in textiles 
  21. Adoption of common industrial technology roadmap on circularity 
  22. Criteria for circular manufacturing of apparel under the Taxonomy Regulation 
  23. Work on skills for the textiles ecosystem within the European Skills Agenda and the renewed European Alliance for Apprenticeships 
  24. Strengthening of market surveillance through cooperation between enforcement authorities and launch of EU Toolbox against counterfeiting 

Evidently, the fashion and textile industry are closely linked, textiles being the base of the fashion industry: “clothing comprises the largest share of EU textile consumption (81%)”. Hence, changes in the fashion industry directly affect those in the textile industry. For instance, the drop of garment prices in the last 20 years and the increase of clothes an individual owns has made the fashion/textile industry represent an important part of our economies, with a value of more than 2.5 trillion $USD and employing over 75 million people worldwide.  

However this dramatic growth has had an unprecedented impact on the environment, specifically in the areas of water use, water pollution, greenhouse emissions and textile waste in landfills, as pointed out by the European Parliament.  

Links between the textile industry and food are not as evident; however, one can compare strategies such as the search for a circular economy in both realms. For example, both industries strive for similar objectives when it comes to creating a sustainable and circular value chain as can be seen in the table:  

Fashion Industry 

Food Industry 

New resource-efficient fabric production 

Sourcing food grown regeneratively, and locally where appropriate

Zero waste design process and informing consumers about sustainable choices 

Designing and marketing healthier food products 

Co-located collection and recycling of textiles 

Making the most of food 


Examples of brands taking on a circular value chain

Since 2010, the number of companies embracing circular business models has increased significantly, both start-ups and existing companies. Not to forget, many existing textile companies working on textile tailoring, repair and maintenance (e.g. tailors, laundries, dry cleaning services) have always worked towards the idea of textile durability and extending lifetimes, without adhering explicitly to the concept of ‘circular economy’. 

An analysis of case studies by Joint Research Center (JRC) shows that most circular business models focus on product take back and use of recycled content, while those aimed at circular design are still limited – mainly targeted towards design for durability, repair and recycling. However, while the EU-wide textile collection rate in 2019 was estimated to be around 39 %, it is expected to significantly grow towards 2025 when the obligations of the revised Waste Framework Directive to separately collect end-of-life textiles will enter into force. 

  1. “Stella McCartney is turning the dream of a circular fashion industry into reality. It is part of the Make Fashion Circular initiative and is Cradle to Cradle certified (a system of scoring brands for their commitment to the circular economy). The luxury brand is creating innovative ways to reuse materials, including recycled nylon and polyester, and regenerated cashmere. It also supports restorative farming practices to ensure the regeneration of natural sources that are used to make the clothes and accessories. This includes sourcing viscose from sustainably managed forests in Sweden, and the use of GOTS certified organic cotton. The label partners with the RealReal, a US-based online pre-owned luxury item store, and has co-launched Clevercare,  an initiative aimed to educate consumers on how to take care of their garments so they last longer”. 
  2. “MUD jeans. This leading denim brand founded in the Netherlands incorporates a circular business model to produce its popular items. It creates high quality, long lasting pieces designed from eco-friendly materials including GOTS certified organic and recycled cotton. Its ethos encourages customers to wear MUD jeans for as long as possible, and it even provides free repair services within the first year to free shipping areas. Customers can buy or rent jeans, and when they need a new pair, return them to MUD to be recycled into new denim and receive a discount on their next pair. Customers can also recycle other brands of jeans as long as they are made from at least 96% cotton”. 
  3. “The R Collective reuses excess luxury fabrics and materials to create its collections. Every year, 92 millions tons of textile waste is generated, therefore the reuse of excess fabrics helps reduce waste and helps it remain in circular fashion design and creation strategies. The R Collective has taken it one step further with the launch of ‘Refashioned’, an on-demand service allowing customers to choose from a 20 piece collection and tailoring it to their size and preferred fabric. This model fully embodies slow and circular fashion where instead of producing mass amounts of clothing items that may not sell, the label is able to make the exact needed products to order, thus eliminating the potential waste” 


EU strategy for sustainable and circular textiles. 

EU strategy for sustainable and circular textiles. About this initiative 

Textiles and the environment: the role of design in Europe’s circular economy 

18 Sustainable fashion brands leading the circular economy 

Food and the circular economy 

Environmental Sustainability in the Fashion Industry