The EEA is urging the textile trade industry to take greater responsibility for sending clothing to lower-income countries and then returning it as second-hand goods, as the consequences are significant.
The European Union generates approximately 5.8 million tons of textile waste annually, with only a quarter being recycled due to limited capacities.
Most of this waste is sent as donations to Africa and Asia, with a high demand for second-hand clothing. The perception of these donations benefiting those in need is not entirely accurate, as used clothing has become an integral part of the global trade and commercial value chain.
The EEA report reveals that second-hand textile exports from the EU have tripled in the past two decades, reaching almost 1.7 million tons in 2019, with Africa being the primary recipient. Germany, Poland, and the Netherlands are the main exporters, and concerns are raised regarding the disposal of reusable clothing, which often ends up in landfills or unregulated waste streams.
The inadequate management of textile waste leads to greenhouse gas emissions, depletion of non-renewable resources, and the release of microplastics into the environment. It is essential for all stakeholders in the textile trade to collaborate and implement sustainable practices for responsible management of clothing waste.