The new EU strategy for sustainable textiles seeks to reduce the amount of textiles and single-use products. These goals will not be reached by shifting responsibility onto consumers: Buy less and sell your unused clothes at a flea market.
The problems associated with textile manufacturing are caused by the industry itself, which has encouraged consumption by constantly creating new trends, marketing fast fashion and lowering the quality of products. However, this is not a matter that can be resolved by textile manufacturers and consumers alone. Businesses and the public sector are also major buyers and consumers of textiles. As buyers, they are at a key position to make sustainable choices.
Sustainability is not just words but, above all, actions. In almost all Finnish businesses and public sector entities, the word sustainability is in some way featured in their strategy and values. I would also like to see sustainability applied in textile purchases, not just in terms of recycling or requiring certificates for products.
The short lifespan of products causes a large environmental burden
The environmental responsibility of textiles should begin when the material is produced. Once produced, the material goes through many purposes of use, ending when the textile is so worn that it is properly recycled.
In discussions about sustainability, the focus is often on the beginning and end of a product’s lifecycle, forgetting that the biggest environmental damage takes place in the middle: We buy too many products of too low quality, take poor care of what we buy and do not recycle or come up with enough reuse applications. This leads to the fact that we constantly buy more and more while discarding what we no longer need or use.
Our planet’s finite virgin raw materials are rapidly dwindling. Finland’s overshoot day was as early as in March, and comes sooner every year.
Businesses have one effective way to stop the overuse of textiles: stop buying and start renting. Providers of rental textiles have a financial motive to ensure once produced, textiles are kept in use for as long as possible.
Another option is to consider how essential it is really to invest in things such as fashionableness and branding when it comes to workwear? When the company’s logo changes, does the entire stock of workwear need to be renewed? For example, instead of the entire work outfit, could it possible for only the t-shirt to display the brand?
The changes in legislations support the positive development towards more sustainable textile industry
The same methods are also used by the public sector, but in addition to their own purchases, they also have the ability to raise wider awareness about issues, even resulting in legislative changes. In France, for example, a proposed bill would reduce the consumption of virgin raw materials.
The EU’s textile strategy is a positive initiative that seeks to reduce the environmental load of textiles. The issue is absolutely essential from an environmental point of view. The average European throws away 11 kilograms of textiles every year and in Finland, this number is even higher. Add to this the textiles used of businesses and organisations, and load to our planet becomes unsustainable.