The European Commission recently published its new EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles. Its ambitious vision is to reduce textile waste, promote circular measures and minimise the negative environmental impacts of the textile industry. But what would a textile industry that keeps textiles in a closed loop look like, and what political conditions would be required in Germany? A new Zukunftsimpuls paper by the Wuppertal Institute points to the role that Germany could play in the transformation towards a circular textile industry.
The problem of textile waste is the result of the linear structure of the value chain that has prevailed up to now. A comprehensive transformation is therefore needed, as illustrated by "The Circular Economy as a New Narrative for the Textile Industry," a Zukunftsimpuls paper by the Wuppertal Institute. The authors analyse the textile industry's value chains with a focus on Germany’s potential to achieve a transformation to a circular economy. They believe that pilot projects should be carried out to help develop the existing collection and sorting system in Germany to encompass the whole nation and provide quality assurance in the reuse of textiles. In the paper, the authors therefore make clear that the transition away from the consumer and throwaway society – also referred to as the take-make-dispose model – towards closed-loop and resource-efficient cycles can only succeed if textile waste is minimised and raw materials are fed back into the system. Economic incentives, reprocessed or repurposed textiles – such as bags made from bed sheets – repair services and purchasing second-hand clothing could also make a contribution. To succeed in turning away from the increasingly out-of-control "fast fashion" trend, Dr. Henning Wilts, Director of the Circular Economy Division at the Wuppertal Institute, stresses that: "A road map towards a circular economy in Germany's textile industry must be integrated into a consistent overall concept and encompass the provisions of the Textiles Strategy. It should set the foundations for implementation and at the same time help to position Germany as a pioneer of the circular textile economy."
Existing German measures should provide clear incentives for reuse and waste prevention. Holding companies responsible for textile waste management could encourage them to bring more repairable or reusable clothing to the market.