The European Union’s Extended Producer Responsibility Explained – WWD

MILAN — The Italian fashion supply chain, for the most part made up by small and medium-sized enterprises, has long prided itself on being at the forefront of sustainability and traceability, having indeed made quantum leaps in adopting an eco-mindset that span chemicals, operations, processes and logistics.

As much as transformations were implemented in anticipation of predictable industry standards and policymakers’ regulations, the European Union is adding further — and much needed — pressure on the fashion supply chain via the extended producer responsibility, or EPR, framework setting accountability terms on fabric-makers for textile waste.

According to a European Commission tally published in 2022, up to 2.1 million tons of post-consumer clothing and home textiles are separately collected each year in the continent for recycling or sale on global reuse markets, representing roughly 38 percent of textiles placed on the European market. The remaining 62 percent are thought to be discarded in mixed waste streams.

Part of the EU Waste Framework Directive, EPR is defined as a “a set of measures taken by Member States to ensure that producers of products bear financial responsibility or financial and organizational responsibility for the management of the waste stage of a product’s life cycle.”

The move is intended to trigger producers to deal with the end-of-life management of discarded products by primarily tackling upstream efforts, including design practices hinged on circularity principles that would ultimately contribute to waste prevention rather than waste management.

The EPR represents only the most recent addition to the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles first introduced in 2022, which entails ecodesign principles, logistics and the Digital Product Passport, among other pressing issues.

Article 15 of the EPR directive leaves it optional for companies to fulfil their responsibility individually or collectively, by joining efforts to establish a shared system.

The Italian fashion industry has embraced the latter route, giving birth to at least two consortiums geared to defining shared practices.

The Camera della Moda unveiled last year the Re.crea consortium aimed at collectively providing solutions and best practices to manage post-consumer fashion waste, while Sistema Moda Italia, or SMI, the association gathering around 50,000 companies in the textile, fashion and accessories sectors and roughly 400,000 employees, established Retex.Green in March last year.

Italy has acknowledged the European framework as the Ministry of the Environment and Energy Security announced last February that it had prepared, together with the Ministry of Enterprise and Made in Italy, a draft Decree identifying the new obligations to be fulfilled by producers in the textile sector, in compliance with European regulations. To date, only France has put in place EPR regulations while the The Netherlands is poised to introduce one in July.

“The role of the consortium is two-pronged,” said Sergio Tamborini, president of SMI. “On the one hand, it operatively helps and supports well-known brands on a national and international level operating in the country [to comply with regulations], but its activities are also geared at maintaining an open dialogue with the government and ministries and collaborate continuously,” he explained.

Textile waste a major polluter in Southeast Asian countries like Bangladesh

Textile waste is a major polluter in Southeast Asian countries like Bangladesh.

Swapan –

Tamborini touted the 16 legislations to be put in place by the European Union across different sustainability issues, including a more stringent regulation on green labeling aimed at combating greenwashing, but he also stressed that compliance would carry challenges for the sector.

“The introduction of new norms will need to be flanked by investments in the industrial transaction, geared at innovation, digitation and workforce’s upskilling,” he said. “That is particularly true because the schedule within the EU strategy in terms of sustainable textile products entails a speedy acceleration in the first three to five years, with producers being requested to comply with all regulations across the entire value chain, whether it’s based in Europe or not.”

The association’s president observed that a different mix of upstream initiatives will be needed depending on the fashion companies’ positioning. In the luxury and high-end realm, repair and durability are seen as instrumental in extending products’ lifespan, while in the mass market segment, recyclability — hence waste prevention and management — are seen as pivotal.

Ultimately, Tamborini believes each company will have to find its own measures and scope, supported by industry consortiums like Retex.Green to comply with legislations.

“A lot of the bigger companies have already been acting since a few years, but this is a cultural shift for our industry,” he said. “In addition to the extended producer responsibility, we need to hold the legislator accountable for easing the processes and consumers, too, for choosing to buy transparent and responsible products.”

As the country where 27 percent of the European Union’s textile production is held, Italy is in a leading but disadvantaged position, having to shoulder a significant burden when it comes to textile waste management.

Tamborini, however, thinks the country’s supply chain is well equipped and could even benefit from it.

“We do have integral pipelines here, so Italy has a unique opportunity in terms of EPR and less risks compared to global pipelines…the harmonization of the EPR legislation across Europe is going to be vital, but at the same time, we should demand efficient checks on products coming to Europe from outside its borders,” he added.

SMI is a stakeholder of the textile association at the European-level Euratex, which is lobbying policymakers to define “a regulatory framework for the sector that is realistic, coherent and — especially for Italy — ‘friendly’ to SMEs,” Tamborini said.

This would entail enacting initiatives to fuel continent-wide demand for sustainable fashion and measures to support manufacturers in the transition. To this end, Euratex has proposed the creation of a 1 billion euro European fund dedicated to innovation in fashion to be folded into Horizon Europe, the seven-year, 95.5 billion euro European Union scientific research initiative launched in 2021.

As it awaits for Italian legislations to be approved regarding post-consumer waste management, Retex.Green has been actively promoting around 13 projects geared at pre-consumer leftovers and their recirculation in the supply chain. It also linked with the Ministry of the Environment and Energy Security to kick off pilot programs aimed at end-of-life garment recycling.

SMI estimates that programs linked to textile recycling triggered by the implementation of an EPR regulation, among other factors, will have a positive ripple effect on the fashion industry, for example by fueling economic growth and the creation of new job opportunities in the “secondary raw materials” market.

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