The End of Waste (Textiles)

A standard necessary for circular economy
Sustainability Glossary - MU Sustainable Innovation

Recycling and circular economy have become key words in the textile and fashion industry, too. After having revolutionized the use of chemicals in the last five years, the paradigm shift in favor of a more sustainable fashion is now orienting towards increasing attention to efficiency in the use of materials, minimizing waste represented by production scraps and failed recycling or reuse of post-consumption materials at the end of the life cycle of garments.


The Ellen McArthur Foundation estimates the annual global value of industrial textile waste to exceed euro 100 billion, which is not recycled but simply incinerated or sent to landfill. Today, the system is increasingly moving towards a circular economy: an economic model capable of regenerating itself from within, from raw materials up to the reuse of waste materials.


For companies that enter the recycling chain, both those that deliver waste and others that collect, sort and process it, the recycling or reuse of an item that has reached the end of its life cycle requires procedures that frequently collide with the difficulties of interpreting currently applicable laws.  Often complex procedures are imposed for waste transport and treatment, in particular special waste, which includes waste from manufacturing.


Difficulties start with the definition of a scrap product as waste or by-product. This distinction is very important. The procedures to transform waste in order for it to meet the requirements that define it as EoW (End of Waste) are very strict, while the procedures applied to a by-product, which can be used without being subject to transformation, are markedly easier.


Italy, Europe’s largest fashion producer and the world’s second largest exporter, produces massive quantities of industrial textile waste every year. Recycling of this type of waste has not yet reached satisfactory levels even if it is higher than in other European countries.


Regulations concerning waste have a long and complex history, with contradictory and non-homogeneous orientations in the various countries. An important step was made with the implementation of the Directive approved by the European Parliament in May 2018, amending Directive 2008/98/EC on waste.


The EU Directive requires that appropriate criteria be established that recovered products and materials must meet so that they can no longer be classified as waste. The Directive specifically indicates that the EU criteria apply to textile waste (Article 6, par. 2. of the Directive). 


Italy is currently working on the development of criteria to be applied to metals and paper waste, while the work for textiles is still at an initial stage. The first contacts between the structures of the Italian Ministry for the Environment and the associations concerned in the debate began just before summer 2019, on an initiative launched by the association of Tuscan companies.


Addressing the issue and developing a regulatory framework is a fundamental step, without which it becomes very difficult for textile companies to pursue the principles of the circular economy that considers waste as an asset and therefore gives value to the enormous volumes of materials that are thrown away as waste.