A Zero Waste Vision for Textiles – Chapter 2: Circular and toxic-free material flows

This second chapter of our two-part series on textiles sketches out what a truly circular and toxic-free system for textiles looks like. The report investigates the current barriers to circularity, identifies solutions, and makes recommendations for policy measures in the EU.

The European textile sector, characterised by its staggering waste generation and significant environmental impact, is at a crossroads and requires immediate action to transition towards the circular economy. Key challenges include the environmental impact of production and health risks for consumers posed by the use of harmful chemical substances, fossil fuel-based synthetic fibres, and the release of microplastics. Furthermore, the low rates of local reuse, repair, and upcycling of textiles as well as the insufficient separate collection capacity hamper circularity.

Another significant obstacle is the insufficiency capacity for recycling in Europe; operations are often not economically viable due to a lack of design for recycling, investments in technologies for closed-loop recycling, but also the slow uptake of recycled content. Finally, the negative social and environmental impacts of exported second-hand textiles pose a huge challenge to regulators.

In the first chapter of this two-part series, ‘A Zero Waste Vision for Fashion – Chapter 1: All We Need Is Less’, we outlined that without a shift to sufficiency in the fashion sector, the industry is on track to exceed several planetary boundaries.

Executive Summary available in English.

Full paper available in English. 

How to collect, sort, and reuse textile waste locally?

In view of the EU-wide mandatory separate collection of textile waste as of 2025, municipalities have the chance to align textile collection with the waste hierarchy and support a system of local reuse, particularly for clothing. This paper provides municipalities with an overview of good practices and lessons learned from the separate collection of textile waste across Europe.

An optimised collection system can support the implementation of local zero waste solutions. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, we have identified key success factors, including adopting the collection method to the needs of citizens, mandating quality sorting for reuse, promoting local reuse, and setting up a good governance structure. The governance of the system should seek to integrate the local collection and reuse into the wider policy framework and link social policies with circular economy objectives.

Municipalities hold key levers to steer the system towards local reuse by requiring collectors to generate and report data as well as set performance indicators in line with the waste hierarchy. Finally, the system must anticipate the introduction of the EU-wide introduction of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme for textiles, which is currently being negotiated at the EU level and is likely to become mandatory in all Member States after 2027.

Available in English.

Feedback to the proposal for a targeted revision of the Waste Framework Directive

Zero Waste Europe welcomes the proposal for a targeted revision of the Waste Framework Directive, introducing food waste reduction targets and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for textiles. Yet, the proposal falls short of addressing some of the pain points ZWE has raised for year, among which are the lack of action on residual waste generation, the overhaul of the definition of recycling, and targets for bio-waste collection. In the long run, ZWE urges the EU to revise the directive to align with the EU climate targets and introduce a law on resource/material use.

Available in English

Joint statement on Extended Producer Responsibility for Textiles

In this joint statement, eleven NGOs and progressive business associations call for action to make the EU-wide Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for textiles, as proposed under the revision of the Waste Framework Directive, a success. The measure must not only ensure sound waste management but also tackle the surge of textile waste in Europe at its source.

Available in English

A Zero Waste Vision for Fashion – Chapter 1: All We Need Is Less

Without a shift to sufficiency in the fashion sector, the industry is on track to exceed planetary boundaries.

In this paper, ZWE outlines a list of entry points for the transition towards sufficiency and urges governments to take proactive steps to adopt best practices. More precisely, the paper suggests a legal framework banning the destruction of unsold goods, setting a target for textile waste reduction and resource use and transforming EU waste legislation into a ‘Resource Framework Directive’ in line with a 1.5-degree target.

The paper underlines that governments should not rely on so-called consumer behaviour ‘nudges’ to cut down on fashion consumption and must address the cause of the current waste crisis: the fast fashion business model that relies on selling large volumes of trendy items. The textile sector’s transformation is a critical milestone, yet it’s only part of a broader economic shift toward sufficiency, well-being, and resilience within planetary boundaries.

This paper serves as the inaugural chapter in a two-part series exploring fashion and textiles along the entire value chain. The subsequent chapter will delve into circularity, covering optimal design, use, reuse, recycling, and end-of-life treatment of garments.

Executive Summary available in English, Italian, and Croatian.

Full paper available in English. 

T(h)reading a path: Towards textiles waste prevention targets

This policy paper warns that the apparel industry must take urgent action to address emissions gaps to reach the climate targets of the Paris Agreement. Despite being the world’s largest buyer of clothes, the EU has not set concrete prevention targets on textile waste, hindering progress towards a fashion industry compatible with planetary boundaries. The paper recommends setting real textile waste reduction targets at the EU level, starting with an overall reduction target of at least one third by 2040 compared to 2020, and highlights the need to lead by example in addressing the negative impacts of the textile industry.

Available in English, French, and Croatian. 

Beyond Circular Fashion – Infographic

For every ultra-fast fashion model, there is a sustainable one waiting to break the system. We can make them norm by supporting zero waste fashion business models.

Our infographic shows the full process and benefits of a zero waste fashion business model, as well as the major differences when compared to a linear model.

This material is complementary to Zero Waste Europe’s “Beyond circular fashion – a new business model for the fashion industry” report, published in January 2023.

Available in English, Croatian, Estonian, French, Montenegrin, Spanish and Italian.

Beyond circular fashion – a new business model for the fashion industry

In the context of the EU Textiles Strategy, Zero Waste Europe’s “Beyond circular fashion” report shows how existing approaches and initiatives to make fashion fair and sustainable, while an important step forward, are insufficient in addressing harmful business models that rely on overproduction and overconsumption.

To comply with planetary boundaries, the report identifies 4 essential criteria that must be met simultaneously to qualify a fashion business as zero waste.

Executive summary available in English, French, and Croatian.

Full report in English.