Technological watch

European Clothing Action Plan helps to redress the environmental impact of clothing

The four-year pan-European programme ECAP (the European Clothing Action Plan) completes this month 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” signposts valuable resources including new guidance, white papers and key learnings which are available to inspire and inform 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. At the disposal stage, ECAP focussed 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. They include;

  • Integrating recycled fibres – here 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% recycled cotton, while Schijvens Corporate Fashion produced t-shirts, polo shirts and blouses made with 30% post-consumer textiles (mixed PET & cotton), 20% industrial textile waste (cotton) and 50% PET (from bottles). 
  • Sourcing more sustainable fibres - 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% in Year 1); launching first sustainable clothing (such as a denim collection). Read more about these pioneering pilots.  
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. Some other projects include:

  • Engaging young consumers – Europeans buy an average of 26kg of textiles per person per year, and discard 11kg. The LWARB #LoveNotLandfill behavioural change campaign focussed on young Londoners interested in fast fashion through multiple communications channels. Textile clothing banks, five of which were designed by street artist Bambi, were placed around London in key shopping locations to encourage the donation of unwanted clothes. The first #LoveNotLandfill charity pop-up shop attracted 2,000 visitors in just four days, with the  third pop-up in November 2019 reaching 4,500 in footfall and £23,000 in sales for the four charity partners. Swapping events were popular and LWARB created a series of activities for schools, and worked with online fashion brand ASOS to develop a resale-based circular business model; producing a white paper to share learnings. 
  • Engaging European consumersWRAP surveyed clothing-related behaviour in Denmark, Germany, Italy and The Netherlands (2016) to inform consumer initiatives to influence buying, care/repair and disposal behaviours 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 continues. 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. And 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.

ECAP advisors’ quotes

Rebecca Earley, Professor of Sustainable Fashion Textile Design and Co-Director, Centre for Circular Design (CCD); “ECAP is a really important programme in helping to bring more sustainable practices into how we design, make, use and re-use clothing. It is one of the very few programmes that focus on the entire clothing supply chain, rather than just a specific part of that chain. The summary report brings together a wealth of important resources in one place and I’m particularly impressed with the fibre-2-fibre guidance; which will help many businesses incorporate more recycled content into their clothes, more easily. I can see these resources being very helpful to so many people, and would urge anyone working in fashion to consult this important programme of work. I also see the design for longevity platform as a key reference for all of us interested in understanding how we can collaborate towards making clothes last longer and get worn more often.”

Lars Fogh Mortensen, Consumption, Products and Plastics Expert, European Environment Agency; “ECAP is one of a few ground-breaking and innovative projects on textiles, clothing and the environment which have resulted in textiles being a priority sector for the European Commission and its next circular economy action plan.”

Mauro Scalia, EURATEX Director Sustainable Businesses, The European Apparel and Textile Confederation; “The ECAP work has been extremely informative and instrumental to explore new routes to enable circularity in the textile value chains, especially concerning the role of consumers and green public procurers. These inputs also inspired contents of the EURATEX strategy Prospering in the Circular Economy unveiled in December 2019. We look forward to keep working with ECAP partners and find solutions to apply circularity in textiles at large scale.”

Alan Wheeler, General Delegate of the Textiles Division at the Bureau of International Recycling and Director of the Textile Recycling Association; “ECAP has developed a solid and robust framework which will enable stakeholders from the European Clothing Supply chain to address the serious environmental impacts that the industry produces. The findings from ECAP will enable businesses to instigate appropriate measures which are necessary to help improve sustainability across the supply chain from manufacturing and production of clothing through to re-use and recycling.”

Publication date: 13/12/2019


This project has been co-funded with the support of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union [LIFE17 ENV/ES/000438] Life programme

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Last update: 2022-01-31