The Italian Way to Sustainable Textiles

With its shameful numbers (annually: 0.5 million tons of synthetic fibres poured into the sea, 79 billion cubic metres of water consumed, 10% of the world’s total greenhouse gases emissions, 660,000 tons of municipal waste against negligible percentages of garments recycled as clothing), the textile-clothing sector remains among the least sustainable in the world. The European Commission imposed a change on March 30, outlining the Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles. They have set a series of objectives for 2030 to decouple supply chain growth and profitability from waste growth. Anticipating the legal obligations to come, Sistema Moda Italia, the Italian textile-clothing association of Confindustria Moda (which includes its homologous associations Assocalzaturifici and Assopellettieri), has launched the Retex.Green consortium. Mauro Chezzi, SMI deputy director and head of the initiative, talked to us about it.

What are the obligations set for manufacturers by the European Strategy for sustainable and circular textile products?

Textile-clothing manufacturers are required to get the tools to become more resilient and competitive even in the long term; they must improve performance in terms of sustainability. By 2030, textile products placed on the EU market must be as durable, repairable and recyclable as possible. As well as respecting social rights, they must be made as much as possible of recycled fibres and be free of hazardous substances. In developing a more circular supply chain, waste management becomes crucial. One of the main tools has been identified by the European Commission in the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policy. Unlike what happens today, manufacturers will have to deal with their products even after their end of life, taking care of textile waste collection and management.

 Why was Retex.Green created?

The consortium was created to enable manufacturers to manage these new obligations by transferring them to the consortium. In short, manufacturers will be able to transfer the obligations deriving from the new legislation to the consortium by registering with it and paying an eco-contribution, which is the amount needed to finance the waste management system. We have worked in advance to help companies be ready when the obligation is effective – we think by mid-2023. And we thought systemically, involving textile-clothing products, footwear and leather accessories, which are a large part of fashion.

Will manufacturers also be able to fulfil their obligations independently?

The legislation will certainly provide for individual EPR systems, but I would say that these are within reach of companies with large quantities of products on the market, the likes of Zara or H&M. For everyone else, individual management will be virtually impossible. It is about managing the waste collection, sanitisation, selection and treatment processes throughout the national territory on a pro-rata basis – that is, a proportionate allocation as a percentage of the waste placed on the market. The trend is to promote use and recycling rather than waste-to-energy and landfills, which are considered residual in the new EPR system. The top of the internationally recognised waste hierarchy is the priority of avoiding waste production; then comes reuse and recycling, and at the bottom are waste-to[1]energy and landfill. Managing all these activities at a national level involves really high costs and expertise that companies do not have.

More specifically, what tools will companies have to equip themselves with?

The new rules will require a new organisation. Just think of the radical change of adding an accounting system that does not consider turnover or product price, as happens now, and not even garments or pairs. In waste management procedures, the key driver is mass and weight, so companies will have to start thinking of a jacket as a specific amount of grams of material they will have to manage at the end of life. The consortium will, of course, take care of all the members’ legal obligations.

Apart from operational issues, how else will Retex.Green support companies through this change?

One of the consortium’s planned actions is to support companies in developing an eco-design. That is, it will help them align with the circular economy paradigm from the beginning of the design process, helping them think about a product’s possible post-end-of-life destination in terms of recyclability and reusability. From the beginning, that will mean thinking about demanufacturing, the simple breakdown of individual textile or non-textile components. This type of design process is absolutely in line with what is required by the EU.

The strategy developed by the European Commission envisages the presence of several consortia competing against each other. Isn’t there a risk of improvisations or, worse, of illegal situations?

In choosing which consortium to join, in addition to the services provided, manufacturers must surely pay great attention to the issue of legality to avoid nasty surprises. Retex.Green has adopted strict legality and transparency protocols for complete traceability. We were happy with the positive feedback from the bicameral parliamentary commission on eco[1]mafias for our work programme. Also, unlike other consortia, this consortium is exclusively for manufacturing companies in the supply chain – whether they are SMI members or not – and not for operators in the waste management chain. Although very important, opening the consortium to our possible suppliers would risk creating conflicts of interest.

How will consumers be involved and informed?

The European Commission circular economy package includes, among other things, the Digital Product Passport, enabling comprehensive product tracking. For example, it describes what parts of the product have already been recycled and are included as recycled fibre or recycled parts, and what has been done to make it recyclable or reusable at the end of its life. Then there will be commercial initiatives with stamps or labels. Our trademark, registered as a European collective trademark, will allow companies to tell consumers that they are part of the Retex.Green community, concretely and objectively focusing on eco-design and recycling-reuse.

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