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More than two-thirds of Europe’s textile waste is incinerated or landfilled

The report says fashion waste in the EU is being driven by the increasing volumes of cheap clothing produced by fast-fashion companies © Nipah Dennis/AFP via Getty Images
The report says fashion waste in the EU is being driven by the increasing volumes of cheap clothing produced by fast-fashion companies © Nipah Dennis/AFP via Getty Images

European fashion brands are facing ‘reputational risk’ as regulators target textile waste

Only 27 per cent of Europe’s textile waste is reused or recycled, while 73 per cent is landfilled or incinerated, finds a report by sustainable investor Ambienta.

Europe’s fashion industry needs a “full rethink of textile waste management”, the report says. It advises brands to invest in end-of-life solutions rather than continuing to “greenwash” sustainability commitments.

Brands’ sustainability efforts have principally focused on fabric choice, the report says. But the fabrics that brands claim are sustainable — including cotton, cellulosic fibres such as viscose, and synthetic fibres made from recycled plastic bottles — also have negative environmental impacts, it adds.

These impacts include significant use of water and pesticides, and the creation of chemical waste from processing. The report also cites how the use of plastic bottles to make fabrics removes them from closed-loop recycling systems, meaning they cannot be repeatedly recycled.

The report calls instead for the fashion industry to prioritise the reuse and recycling of fibres.

Fashion waste in the EU is being driven by the increasing volumes of low-quality cheap clothing produced by fast-fashion companies, Ambienta says. While fast fashion is not new, Ambienta accuses fully online brands such as Asos, Boohoo and Shein of driving prices even lower.

Consumers globally are projected to purchase double the amount of clothing items in 2025 than they bought in 2000, the report says. Meanwhile, the average price per item declined by 16 per cent between 2013 and 2023, it adds.

Europe ships 66 per cent of its textile waste abroad, 26 per cent of which is landfilled or incinerated and 40 per cent is reused or recycled, the report says, citing data from the European Environment Agency. But traceability in these regions is limited, Ambienta adds.

“It is estimated that with the decline in quality of clothes, an increasing share of textile waste shipped abroad actually ends up in local landfills, creating piles of textile waste, with tremendous negative environmental consequences,” the report adds.

Ambienta believes regulation offers a “light at the end of the tunnel”. The report points to Europe’s extended producer responsibility policy, due to be implemented in 2025, which will hold brands accountable for the end-of-life management of garments. This requirement falls under the EU Waste Framework Directive, which will also require companies to establish separate collections of textile waste by the same date.

Further, the ecodesign for sustainable products regulation, when in force in 2025, will introduce requirements for recyclable fibres in clothing, the report adds.

It recommends a number of “credible sustainable investment opportunities” for the fashion industry that can “meaningfully drive change”.

The report suggests investors should look to funding specialised consultants to advise on sustainability and reduce “reputational risk”; the inspection and certification of companies; sorting solutions to increase the collection rates of used clothes; fibre-to-fibre recycling technologies; and increasing the resale and reuse services that fashion brands can provide in-house.

Asos, Boohoo and Shein have been contacted for comment.

The report is available to read here.

A service from the Financial Times