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The EU’s New Circular Economy Package May Have Consequences for Hong Kong’s Textile Sellers

The new EU circular economy package, which entered into force on 4 July 2018, lays down recycling targets and strict rules on waste management. By 2025, EU countries will have to recycle 55% of their municipal waste, rising to 60% in 2030, then 65% after a further five years. From 4 July 2018, EU governments have 24 months to transpose the directives included in the package into national law.

The new rules – which, for the European Commission, make Europe “the global front-runner in waste management and recycling” – also stipulate requirements for separate collection and seek to minimise the use of landfill for disposal. The new separate collection rules are expected to boost the quality of secondary raw materials and their uptake.

A lead Member of the European Parliament on the package, Simona Bonafè, commented that “the circular economy is not only a waste management policy, but is a way to recover raw materials and not to overstretch the already scarce resources of our planet, also by profoundly innovating our production system”. She further stated that “this package also contains important measures on waste management, but at the same time goes further, by defining rules taking into account the entire life cycle of a product and aims to change the behaviour of businesses and consumers.

The requirements of the new EU waste package are increasingly placing the textile industry under the obligation of responsible use of finite resources in textile production. According to the chairman of Germany’s “Fachverband Textilrecycling”, fashion producers will be under more pressure to dispense with non-recyclable substance mixtures in the future.

The chairman also sees good opportunities for cooperation between the textile recycling industry and textile or clothing manufacturers. With its expertise, the textile recycling chain will be in a position to supply such manufacturers with exactly the high-quality recycled fibres they need as input for production.

For instance, the new rules oblige local authorities, if they have not already done so, to introduce separate collections for textiles by 2025. As a consequence, many EU countries will have to significantly increase their separate collection activities. This will occur in addition to the separate collection which already exists for paper and cardboard, glass, metals and plastic.

The EU Waste Legislative Package also lays down a raft of measures concerning extended producer responsibility.

The chairman of the German association welcomed the new collection targets, stating that, indeed, more textile waste, which has so far been disposed of as household waste, should be collected in the future. However, he also said that it was already more common for lower-quality synthetic textiles to be recycled instead of being reused. Thus, it is possible that the new rules, which appear to favour recycling over reuse could lead to an increase of synthetics used in the clothing industry at the expense of higher-quality textiles – with consequences for both industry and the environment.

Catering to fashionistas with frequently changing collections, the fashion industry is flooding the market with so-called “fast fashion”. The term refers to the perception of clothes as disposable goods pointing to clothing which shows wear after only a short period of use. Because of its inferior material composition – mostly of synthetic materials – these textiles are not an option for ecologically valuable and resource-saving use as second-hand goods.

The ecological and economic impact of this fast fashion trend was also a major topic of the 7th International BVSE textile recycling conference in Switzerland.

According to the experience of the association “Fachverband Textilrecycling”, textiles collected from municipalities are of a lower quality compared to textiles collected at second hand clothing banks. Their recycling often turns out to be difficult or even impossible due to the predominantly used material mixes. Additionally, fast fashion-type synthetic materials are not environment-friendly because synthetics are much more difficult to reuse and less robust than natural materials like cotton.

The association is concerned that this situation might lead to rising costs for collection and sorting, and fears that, in the end, the mixture of good and badly used textiles will make the textile recycling process ever less profitable, if the collection process is put into the hands of the municipalities.

The BVSE quality label for textile recycling, which was launched in 2013, shows that textile collection can be reliable. The label aims to orient citizens who want to donate old clothes, and can also be of help to local authorities in deciding on disposal solutions.

With regard to landfill targets within the legislative package, a spokesman for the European Parliament explained that the package sets the limit of municipal waste being landfilled to a maximum of 10% by 2035. “In 2014, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden sent virtually no municipal waste to landfill, whereas Cyprus, Croatia, Greece, Latvia and Malta still landfill more than three quarters of their municipal waste.

Over the past two decades many Member States have gradually improved their waste management, in line with the EU waste hierarchy for the prevention of waste. In 1995, on average, 64% of municipal waste was landfilled in the EU. In 2000, the average had been reduced to 55% while the average recycling rate stood at 25%. In 2016, landfilling of household waste in the EU as a whole dropped to 24%, with recycling having increased to 46%. Yet, challenges and big differences between EU countries are said to remain. In 2016, ten Member States still landfilled over 50% of their household waste and six of them incinerated 40% or more.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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