The future of textile regulation

By Erika Furbert

We are currently consuming more than ever and managing the disposal of all these products is a growing problem across the world. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is currently consulting on a new Waste Prevention Programme for England: Towards a Resource Efficient Economy that sets out priorities for action to manage resources and waste. One of the priority areas set out in The Programme is textile waste.

Approximately 921,000 tonnes of used textiles are disposed of in household residual waste in the UK each year, destined for landfill and incineration, including around 530,000 tonnes of clothing, shoes, bags and belts, and 391,000 tonnes of non-clothing textiles (2017). In response to this growing problem, the Government is proposing an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme for textile waste, which will impact all business putting textiles onto the market.

What is EPR?

EPR is a policy approach under which producers are given a significant responsibility – financial and/or physical – for the treatment or disposal of post-consumer products.

Under EPR all legal entities putting new textiles onto the market will be held responsible for the recycling or proper disposal of their products. DEFRA will explore textile EPR as a means of supporting enhanced collection services, increasing recycling rates and determining how to best support eco-design and circular business models. DEFRA aims to finish consultations and develop a proposal for the scheme by the end of 2022. This indicates that the earliest the legislation would be implemented is 2023/4. There is currently limited information on what this scheme will look like in the UK, however France has had EPR for textiles since 2007 and Sweden’s will come into force in 2022, which may provide some insights into how it will be implemented in the UK.

These schemes have established regulating bodies that monitor, enforce and report on textile collections across various approved channels of disposal such as in-store drop-offs and donations to charity set up by individual companies as well as on-street containers and municipality collections funded by textile producers through EPR.  It is also important to note that it is unlikely this will just apply to clothing. Across France and Sweden clothing, home and interior textiles, bags, shoes and accessories are covered.

However, the consultation document highlights that EPR is not a silver bullet solution to the UK’s textile waste problem and the scheme will be considered alongside a number of supporting measures such as a landfill/incineration ban, improved labelling and eco-design requirements.

How this will affect your business?

The effects of new legislation will be felt strongly across the entire market. It will be vital for businesses to evaluate their current position to recognize how they are poised to respond.

The new legislation will come with additional costs for the recycling or proper disposal of their products. In France this is primarily done through the French Producer Responsibility Organisation, Eco TLC. All relevant businesses can register as members and pay tariffs, that enable Eco TLC to fulfil their EPR liability. However, these costs can be mitigated by dedicating additional resource in anticipation of legislation changes to drive efficiencies in the design, distribution, and end-of-life of products. It is likely the EPR scheme will reward sustainable actions, such as including recycled materials in products. Businesses must now begin think where they can take action in across the product life-cycle to minimize their financial exposure.

However, it is not only financial risks that businesses need to consider but also reputational risk. This legislation will draw significant attention to the problem of textile waste similarly to the spotlight shone on packaging in response to the incoming Packaging EPR scheme. Consumers will be looking to see brands how are managing textile waste, which will bring reputational risks for those that are falling behind. This will only become more visible as trailblazers emerge and gain consumer confidence. For example, H&M is currently considered to be comparatively well-positioned in the market for EPR and have been praised for their textile waste initiatives such as their in-store takeback scheme, use of recycled materials in products and donating remaining stock to charity or recycling organisations for reuse. In comparison numerous brands including Burberry, Nike and Urban Outfitters have faced severe backlash and boycotts from consumers for burning unsold stock in recent years.

Consumers, investors, and the Government will continue to push the transition to a circular economy. Although this may appear quite daunting, it is still early in the consultation process therefore businesses are now perfectly positioned to engage with DEFRA to help develop a progressive, flexible, transparent regulation, rather than simply reacting once it is enforced. For all textile producers this is an opportunity to develop your business by improving durability and design, establishing take-back schemes and repair services, and exploring innovations in fibre-to-fibre recycling.

At Sancroft, our services are tailored to our clients’ needs. We support their business in navigating the incoming regulatory changes. This can be through helping create an engagement plan for the consultation and key stakeholders or developing a take-back schemes and strategies to ensure their business is poised to minimise increasing costs.

To find out more about EPR for textiles or how the consultations and reform are set to affect your business please contact Felix Gummer or Erika Furbert

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