ECAP reports success in sustainable clothing

The four-year pan-European programme ECAP (the European Clothing Action Plan) has reported success in several areas such as recovering and turning fibres into new garments through remanufacture, donation of unwanted clothes and creating textile clothing banks, and engaging consumers to prolong garment life and divert clothing from landfill.

The programme has completed with the publication of its report “Driving circular fashion and textiles”. ECAP is one of the first EU Life funded projects to tackle sustainable clothing in Europe and influence positive action across the entire supply chain. The summary report details its achievements over a range of innovation projects, conducted through eight work streams by partners in several European countries.

The report “Driving circular fashion and textiles” details valuable resources including new guidance, white papers and key learnings which are available to any business or government, in any country. The report details key findings from a series of small-scale demonstration projects testing practical interventions across the supply chain. These pilots range from introducing sustainable design and production practices to addressing the pressure of consumption on the environment; and developing more sustainable public-procurement models. In the area of disposal, ECAP focusses on improving textile collections, recycling and reprocessing through research and practical trials and fibre-2-fibre recycling.

ECAP pilots were conducted with retailers and brands across Europe, which have been summarised in a number of case studies showing the potential economic and environmental savings businesses can achieve through greater sustainable practices.

Nine companies from fashion brands to work-wear companies, and children’s wear to hotel linen, took part in pilots to recover and turn fibres into new garments through remanufacture. This sought to reduce the use of virgin materials, conserve water and energy, and reduce the amount sent to landfill or incineration. Asos produced a range of denim jeans made with up to 20 per cent recycled cotton, while Schijvens Corporate Fashion produced t-shirts, polo shirts and blouses made with 30 per cent post-consumer textiles (mixed PET and cotton), 20 per cent industrial textile waste (cotton) and 50 per cent PET (from bottles).

A range of European brands and retailers ran pilots to source more sustainable fibres to reduce the impact of clothing produced and sold within the European market. They calculated their environmental impact and developed strategies to improve these; including adopting strategies with targets for sustainable cotton, recycled fibres and eco-friendly processing; achieving significant increases in use of sustainable cotton (such as from 0-70 per cent in Year 1); launching first sustainable clothing (such as a denim collection).

Peter Maddox, director WRAP, said; “This has been a huge amount of work by many partners, in many countries. Through ECAP, retailers and brands have reduced the footprint of garments they sell; workwear and brands have piloted cutting edge fibre-2-fibre schemes increasing recycled content in clothing, and household textile collections have increased. I am very proud of what everyone has achieved, and how these resources will help drive sustainable fashion in the future.”

“Clothing ranks sixth in household spending, but its environmental cost is far greater. The clothing industry has a huge environmental footprint across its supply chain, and at end of life. Its reach is global, and its impacts profound. We too, as consumers, directly contribute to the stress put on the planet by how we dress. ECAP’s challenge has been to improve production, supply, use and disposal of our clothes in ways businesses and people will adopt.”

The ECAP programme ran from September 2015 to December 2019 and was a team effort coordinated and managed by WRAP, which also led on European consumer engagement. Dutch government agency Rijkswaterstaat led public procurement, collections and fibre-2-fibre recovery actions. The London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB) led action to engage young consumers in London, and the Danish Fashion Institute, which become Global Fashion Agenda in May 2018, orchestrated the development of the design for longevity platform. Made-By led the actions on fibre strategies and manufacturing processes until November 2018.

There were also projects on engaging young consumers such as the LWARB #LoveNotLandfill behavioural change campaign which focussed on young Londoners interested in fast fashion through multiple communications channels. It focused on donation of unwanted clothes and creating textile clothing banks.

Another project engaged consumers in Denmark, Germany, Italy and The Netherlands to prolong garment life and divert clothing from landfill. A follow-up survey (2019) found Denmark and Italy saw more clothes donated to charity and community shops as a result, while second-hand purchases rose across all nations. There was a significant increase in how long clothes were kept (from 3.8 years to 4.4 years) in Germany, with more UK citizens laundering at 30 degrees, rather than 40 degrees.

Danish Fashion Institute (now Global Fashion Agenda) created the Design for Longevity platform in collaboration with designers and product developers across Europe. This showcases the importance of designers in sustainable fashion, and has integrated best practices to help raise awareness, inspire innovation and empower designers and product developers to influence and change design in more sustainable ways.

The impact of ECAP is continuing. Partnerships and collaborations created across countries, and on-going retailer and brand sustainable fibre strategies and consumer campaigns, continue to deliver savings in carbon, water and reduced textile waste. ECAP’s legacy also helps inform and support EU policy on sustainable clothing.

At a governmental level, the programme’s circular procurement criteria for textiles have fed into the ongoing development of the Commission’s Green Public Procurement guidance. The EU Circular Economy Package, which legislates for separate collection of textiles from 2025, will mean ECAP’s guidance on textile collections is likely to become a key resource for municipalities, and the recycling sector. Several European member states are consulting on Extended Producer Responsibility for textiles, and if implemented, they will provide a clear incentive to brands and retailers to redesign clothing to minimise environmental impact over its lifetime.

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