Circular economy — what else?
The circular economy is one of the main building blocks of the European Green Deal and the European agenda for sustainable growth. Circularity is also one of the six environmental objectives of the European Union included in the EU taxonomy. European institutions have identified textiles as one of the most resource-intensive sectors and are pushing to convert to more sustainability. In this context, the textile services sector deserves closer examination.
The textile service industry in Europe is worth around €11 billion with a network of thousands of professional laundries of varying sizes. A classic full service includes the initial supply of textiles or garments and continues with a textile circle on the washing, repair and supply of textile products on a daily or weekly basis. The European Textile Service Association (founded in 1990) acts as the representation of large multinational operators and national textile service associations.
For decades, textile services have been a product-as-a-service business model, which is essential and fundamental for circularity. Product longevity, localism in the supply chain, repair services and reuse options, as well as resource optimization, are indeed part of the textile service DNA. Today, many other sectors look at textile services with interest and respect.
Show the example during a change in progress
During the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, textile services have been able to prove that their business model is essential. Localized supply chains serving critical industries and the healthcare sector were vital. Many industrial sectors (including healthcare, hospitality, construction and security) have contributed to our wellbeing and health by using hygienically cleaned textiles and clothing.
Industrial laundries have always been an essential but, for many, an invisible part of the European infrastructure. Now more than ever, they create economic growth and increase the number of jobs in Europe.
The industry also relies on a diverse workforce, of different ages, ethnicities and nationalities, all serving various types of jobs. The textile services industry offers physical labor in factories or transportation, key engineering and technical roles, as well as managerial, strategic, and creative roles. We pride ourselves on having roles that allow everyone to grow, learn and develop.
The inherent circularity and sustainability of textile services
Laundry process data shows that when the industry evaluates its work and looks for ways to improve processes, it makes incredible progress. In ETSA’s most recent Resource Consumption Study, which assessed over 400 industrial laundries across Europe, continuous improvement and a clear energy and resource advantage through use of textile services have been identified.
Additionally, optimized washing procedures tailored to the requirements and weight of a textile product can extend the life of a product to 50 or more wash cycles. An integrated repair service with an average repair quota of 3-7% also extends the life cycle of textile garments, thereby minimizing the extraction of virgin resources in global supply chains. Pooling textiles and reusing used garments also extends the life of one in five garments into a second life cycle.
What could encompass this commitment to circularity more than sourcing in our industry? Products designed for longevity, fabrics designed for protection, durability and reparability are the basic requirements for maximum circularity. Most of the industry’s textile products are made on demand, with high inventory turnover; reduce waste to an absolute minimum and eliminate losses compared to a retail distribution model. It also means shorter, local and more efficient supply chains, which will be fundamental for the green economy of tomorrow. The textile services industry is also committed to sustainability through logistics with optimized routes, trucks and loads, all of which help reduce our collective carbon footprint.
close the loop
According to the latest ETSA Resource Consumption Survey (2021), over 60% of all textile products are recycled. Among end-of-life textiles, 32% were delivered to be reused directly on articles or fabrics, in particular cut to clean rags and paper towels; 35% was delivered for other recycling options, including tearing for various products. The new “recycling hubs” for industrial textiles will play a key role. Textile manufacturers and the textile service sector will work together to close the loop and leave as little as possible for incinerators. Thanks to all this, we will achieve an effective reduction of resource consumption as well as carbon emissions. The options to recycle, reuse or even remanufacture also make sense for our members.
At the center of the future achievements of textile services are the customers. As soon as the industry works more closely with customers on sustainability and circularity, big steps can be taken. Nevertheless, there are some challenges to overcome.
- Work closely with the textile and chemical industry to “detoxify” all (dyed) textiles.
- Collaborate with designers and producers who will create remade products from end-of-life textiles.
- Further improve energy consumption and introduce even smarter logistics and reverse logistics models.
Today we can all become agents of change and we all need to understand the importance of becoming more circular. Closing the loop between the supply and the end of life of textile products will be at the heart of the circularity process. The textile services industry does not only tackle trouble spots early in the value chain. The industry manages both ends. End-of-life textiles are in their hands, available in pre-sorted volumes and can be efficiently transported to the various recycling, upcyling or second life cycle channels.
At its core, circularity is where responsible industry is invited to invest its commitment in the years to come and where we expect and strongly encourage the European Commission to provide its full support.
ETSA’s response to the green transition to digital
ETSA shares a strong responsibility for what the future of textile services should bring to the economy and society; and in my role as President of the European Textile Services Association, this is certainly true and more relevant than ever.
The textile services sector can offer powerful insights to other sectors looking to become more circular and sustainable. With ETSA receiving the role of Climate Ambassador from the European Commission since 2021, being circular and sustainable means looking to the future, in a world that often looks at the quickest and fastest outcome rather than the sight of together.