Circular economy — what else?
The circular economy is one of the main building blocks of the European Green Deal and Europe’s agenda for sustainable growth. Circularity is also one of the six environmental goals of the European Union included in the EU taxonomy. The European institutions have identified textiles as one of the sectors with the highest rate of resource consumption and are putting on pressure to convert to more sustainability. In this context, the textile services sector deserves a closer look.
The textile service industry in Europe totals roughly €11 billion with a network of thousands of professional laundries of different sizes. A classic full service includes the initial procurement of the textiles or garments and continues with a textile circle on washing, repairing and supplying the textile goods on daily or weekly basis. The European Textile Service Association (founded in 1990) acts as representation of the big multinational operators and the national textile services associations.
For decades, textile services have been a product-as-a-service business model, which is key and fundamental to circularity. Longevity of products, localism in the supply chain, repair services and reuse options, as well as resource optimization, are indeed part of the textile service’s DNA. Today, many other sectors are looking at textile services with interest and respect.
Leading by example during an ongoing change
During the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, textile services were able to prove their business model as essential. Localized supply chains serving critical industries, and the health-care sector were vital. Many industrial sectors (including health care, hospitality, construction and security) contributed to our wellbeing and health using hygienically cleaned textiles and garments.
Industrial laundries have always been an essential but, to many an invisible piece of Europe’s infrastructure. Now, more than ever, they are creating economic growth and have been increasing the number of jobs in Europe.
The industry also relies on a diverse workforce, different ages, ethnicities and nationalities, all serving various sets of jobs. The textile services industry offers physical work in factories or transport, key engineering and technical roles, as well as managerial, strategic and creative roles. We take pride in having roles for everyone to grow, learn and develop.
The inherent circularity and sustainability of textile services
Data from laundry processes highlight that when the industry assesses its work and looks at ways to improve processes, it achieves amazing progress. In the most recent ETSA study on resource consumption, which benchmarked over 400 industrial laundries across Europe, continuous improvement, and a clear energy- and resource-advantage by using textile services were identified.
Furthermore, optimized washing procedures fitted to the requirements and weight of a textile product can extend the lifespan of a product to 50 wash cycles or more. Integrated repair service with an average 3-7 percent repair quota, also extends the lifecycle of textile garments, thereby minimizing virgin resource extraction across global supply chains. Pooling textiles and reusing worn garments also prolong the life of every fifth garment into a second life cycle.
What could encompass this commitment to circularity more than procurement in our industry? Products designed for longevity, fabrics made for protection, durability and repairability are the basic requirements for maximum circularity. Most textile products in the industry are produced on demand, with high turnover in stock; dropping waste to the absolute minimum and eliminating losses compared to a retail distribution model. This also means shorter, local, more-efficient supply chains, which will be fundamental to tomorrow’s green economy. The textile services industry is also committed to sustainability via logistics with optimized routes, lorries and loading, all of which help reduce our collective carbon footprint.
Closing the loop
According to ETSA’s latest resource consumption survey (2021), more than 60 percent of all textile products are recycled. Of end-of-life textiles, 32 percent were delivered for direct reuse to items or fabric, in particular cutting up for cleaning rags and wipers; 35 percent were delivered for other recycling options including tearing for miscellaneous products. The new ‘recycling hubs’ for industrial textiles will be playing a paramount role. Textile manufacturers and the textile services sector together will help close the loop and leave the least-possible amount behind for incinerators. Through all this we will achieve an effective reduction of resource consumption as well as of carbon emissions. The recycling, re-using or even remaking options also makes good business sense to our members.
At the center of textile services’ future achievements are the clients. As soon as the industry works more closely with clients on sustainability and circularity, great milestones can be surpassed. Nevertheless, there are some challenges to be addressed.
- Working closely with the textile and chemicals industry to ‘detox’ all (dyed) textiles.
- Collaborating with designers and producers who will create remade products from end-of-life textiles.
- Improving further on energy consumption and introducing even smarter logistics and reverse logistics models.
Today, we can all become agents of change and we should all understand the importance of becoming more circular. Closing the loop between procurement and end-of-life of textile products will be at the core of the circularity process. The textile service industry not only tackles the hotspots at the beginning of the value chain. The industry manages both ends. Textiles at end-of-life are in their hands, available in presorted volumes and can efficiently be provided to the different channels of recycling, upcyling or second life cycle.
At its core, circularity is where a responsible industry is asked to invest its commitment in the forthcoming years and where we expect and strongly encourage the EU Commission to be fully supportive.
ETSA response to the green a digital transition
ETSA shares a strong responsibility about what the future of textile services should bring, to the economy and to society; and in my role as president of the European Textile Service Association, this is most certainly true and more relevant now than ever.
The textile services sector can offer powerful reflections to other sectors that are seeking to become more circular and sustainable. With ETSA receiving the role of climate ambassador from the EU Commission since 2021, being circular and sustainable, means looking to the future, in a world that often looks at the fastest and most-expedient result rather than to the bigger picture.