Circular business models and smarter design can reduce the environmental and climate impacts of textiles — European Environment Agency

Impacts of textiles and the role of design and circular business models

The AEE briefing “Textiles and the environment: the role of design in the European circular economy” provides updated estimates of textile life cycle impacts on the environment and the climate.

The briefing shows that, compared to other consumption categories, textiles in 2020 caused the third highest pressures on water and land use, and the fifth highest raw material use and greenhouse gas emissions. Per average person in the EU, textile consumption required 9 cubic meters of water, 400 square meters of land, 391 kilograms (kg) of raw materials and resulted in a carbon footprint of around 270 kg. The vast majority of resource use and emissions took place outside of Europe.

The briefing also examines how circular business templates and design can reduce the negative impacts of textile production and consumption by retaining the value of textiles, extending their life cycle and increasing the use of recycled materials. This requires technical, social and business innovation, supported by policy, education and changes in consumer behavior.

A key aspect to increase the circularity of textile products is their design. Circular design such as the careful choice of materials, the timeless look or the multifunctionality of the garment may allow longer use and reuse of products, extending the life cycle of textiles. According to the EEA briefing, optimizing resource use and reducing emissions at the production stage would also mitigate negative impacts, as would better collection, reuse and recycling of discarded textiles.

Reduce microplastic pollution

Textiles are a major source of microplastic pollution, mainly through wastewater from washing cycles, but also through the manufacture, wearing and end-of-life disposal of garments. The AEE briefing “Microplastics from textiles: towards a circular economy for textiles in Europe” looks at this specific type of pollution, highlighting three key prevention measures: sustainable design and production, controlling emissions during use and improving end-of-life treatment.

According to the AEE briefing, pollution could be reduced, for example, using alternative production processes and the pre-washing of garments at manufacturing sites with appropriate filtering of waste water. Other promising measures that could be introduced or expanded include the integration of filters into household washing machines, the development of milder detergents and generally better care of clothes. Finally, collection of textile waste, treatment and management of wastewater would further reduce leakage into the environment.

Learn more

The two EEA briefings summarize more detailed technical reports from the EEA European Topic Center on Waste and Materials in a Green Economy (ETC/WMGE):

Textiles and the environment: the role of design in the European circular economy

Microplastic pollution from textile consumption in Europe

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