The EU-level regulations have a significant role in advancing the circular economy of textiles. The EU textile strategy that would, in its part, promote the reduction, recycling and upcycling of textile waste, is expected to be published. This is one part of the EU’s objective to be a climate-neutral economic area by 2050 but it is also a means to strengthen self-sufficiency.


“The reason that we have truly awakened to this is because we have realised how immensely dependent the European Union is of certain imported raw materials and how much we waste raw materials. We want to strengthen our self-sufficiency specifically by not throwing anything away. We would hope that in the future there was no waste generated in the European Union but that we could recycle the same material over and over again. Naturally, it would make a difference to both economy and environment”, Member of the European Parliament, Henna Virkkunen, clarifies the background of the circular economy objectives of the EU.


In order for the circular economy of textiles to be realised, a lot of work in both research and product development is required. Moreover, cooperation and information sharing across industry sectors are needed – textile industry could learn, for example, from electronics industry about recyclability as well as upgradability of different products and parts. Business model is also something that needs to be developed in textile and clothing industry. The circular economy should be taken into consideration throughout business, and thus, make products that have better quality, last longer, have potentially more users during their life cycle and that could finally be recycled. 


The circular economy creates opportunities, too. In Finland, there are already several examples of innovative circular economy textile companies, and circular economy strategies are advanced not only on national level but in companies. There is also an enormous potential in the utilisation of textile waste in particular – only approximately one percent of textiles are being recycled worldwide.


“I think it is great that Europe and also Finland have really become aware of the sustainability of textile industry in recent years”, Virkkunen says.


“And also that consumers are all the more interested in how textiles have been produced and are concerned about the state of the environment and think about how they could contribute to a more sustainable action.”


Upcycling and recyclability of clothes and other textile products could be promoted, for example, by demanding more precise labelling, stricter quality criteria or usage of recycled materials from the producers. The content of the upcoming textile strategy is still unknown but, for example, in order to speed up the circular economy of plastics, fairly drastic measures have been taken by banning the sale of certain single-use plastics in the EU altogether. As for textiles, the focus will probably be at least on traceability, information increase and product development.


Kirsi Niinimäki, Professor at Aalto University, thinks that it is important for the circular economy transition that also the valuation of materials undergoes a change.


“In a certain way, we should rethink this whole industrial activity and give value to material in a different way. Until now, we have lived in a time where products and materials have been very cheap – I think we have lost our appreciation for material and products a little bit. This appreciation should be rediscovered, and the circular economy is the change that we are heading towards. We need wide-ranging cooperation so that it will become real”, Niinimäki contemplates.