Fashion and textile industry heavy-hitters are heeding the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s recent call for a New Textiles Economy with the rollout of new agreements and action plans that consider the full life cycle of garments.
While plastic bottles and packaging constitute a considerable portion of marine plastic pollution, a new, more alarming source of marine contamination has recently been identified: microplastics. According to research from Eunomia Research & Consulting, textiles are a major culprit, with 190,000 tons of fibers from polyester, acrylic and nylon entering the world’s marine ecosystem through washing machine wastewater each year. The seriousness of the issue has already attracted attention from big-name brands such as G-Star and Patagonia, and Xeros Technologies has created a microfiber filter that can be used with any washing machine. Now, the European Commission has endorsed a new industry-wide agreement for the prevention of microplastic release from the washing of synthetic textiles. The endorsement is integrated into the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy.
The European Textile and Apparel Confederation (EURATEX), the International Association for Soaps, Detergents and Maintenance Products (AISE), the European Outdoor Group (EOG), the European Man Made Fibres Association (CIRFS) and the Federation of European Sporting Goods Industry (FESI) were the driving forces behind the agreement. The group, which represents the global value chain of garments and their associated maintenance, agreed that viable solutions need to be found to prevent the release of microplastics into freshwater and marine environments throughout the entire lifecycle of textiles.
In the agreement, the associations commit to cross-industry coordination and stakeholder support through a set of three key measures:
- Define common measurement methods: Agree on reliable and harmonized test methods to identify and quantify the type of microplastics present in water and the environment;
- Share knowledge: Call for collaboration across all relevant industry sectors and other organizations, including research, to share information, define common priorities to fill knowledge gaps and advise on mid and long-term measures;
- Industrial research: Support and participate in industrial research activities to investigate feasible options to tackle the release of microplastic and to contribute towards addressing a global problem.
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The industry associations believe that through collaboration and a better understanding of the issue, feasible solutions can be found that can be effectively applied by industry, consumers and authorities. By the end of 2018, the group will draft a proposal for the European Commission based on the methods, research and cross-industry collaborations developed during the first half of the year. The proposal aims to fill the knowledge gaps to identify and quantify sources of microplastic pollution in order to work on possible solutions.
Meanwhile, 64 major fashion companies, including Zara, H&M, Kering, adidas, EILEEN FISHER, Hugo Boss, Target and VF Corporation, have shared their action plans for helping accelerate the industry’s transition to a more sustainable, circular model under the guidance of Global Fashion Agenda, a global forum on sustainability in the fashion industry.
The action plans are the deliverables companies agreed to last May at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit when they signed the 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment. By signing the commitment, the companies not only declared their support for a more circular fashion system, but also agreed to set a 2020 circular strategy for their company.
Since the launch of the 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment, the signatories have been working on setting their own individual targets for 2020, which were reviewed by the Global Fashion Agenda and BSR. Targets have been set in one or more of the following areas: designing for circularity, increasing the volume of used garments collected, increasing the number of used garments resold and increasing the share of garments made from recycled post-consumer textile fibers.
Designing for circularity received the most attention, with a total of 55 company targets set, indicating that many signatories aim to train designers in circular design strategies or to implement circular design principles, such as increased durability, reparability and/or recyclability.
For example, Target has pledged to invest $1 million in post-consumer textile recycling technologies by 2020. During the same period, VF Corporation intends to train all of its product designers based in Europe in circular economy principles and will increase the quantities of secondhand garments and footwear collected at European owned and operated Timberland and The North Face stores by 10 percent.
By 2020, EILEEN FISHER, which set goals across all four categories, aims to implement circular design principles to create a closed-loop product offering and increase the number of garments that have been remanufactured through its EILEEN FISHER RENEW program by 50 percent.
H&M also identified targets across all four action points. In addition to training employees on sustainable materials and sustainable material use, the fashion giant has committed to increasing the volume of collected textiles from its garment collection scheme to at least 25,000 tons annually. By 2020, the company plans to have 40-60 percent of all garments collected in its stores be resold and reused through its partnership with I:CO. The H&M Foundation will also provide an estimated €5.8 million to support the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel’s (HKRITA) research on chemical textile-to-textile recycling.
“We signed Global Fashion Agenda’s 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment since it ties in well with our ambitious vision to become 100 percent circular and renewable. Part of our 2020 commitment is to develop and roll out training on sustainable materials and sustainable material use to all applicable colleagues and to continue to work on building circularity into the design process for all our products,” said Anna Gedda, Head of Sustainability at H&M. “One of the goals for H&M group is to only use recycled or other sustainably sourced materials by 2030 and to become climate positive throughout our entire value chain by 2040 at the latest.”
An annual progress report will be published for the first time in May 2018 highlighting the signatories’ activities in reaching their targets.