EPR, Extended Producer Responsibility, also known as UPV in Dutch or REP in French, is probably one of the buzzwords of the past months. But what is it exactly? Will it be the holy grail for circular economy and most important of all, what will be its impact on the companies?
In this episode, our guest Jo Van Landeghem, Quality, Safety, and Sustainability officer at Creamoda, unravels the EPR for you. A must-listen for everyone active in the textiles & fashion industry, looking for clarity, answers, and above all, concrete action points to prepare.
Listen to the podcast here:
- The core of circular economy: create products of quality that last a long time.
- The EPR model was founded with the aim to not only limit landfills by setting up a take-back system but also to create responsibility for who must pay for the system.
- The EPR 2.0 framework aims to incentivize those companies investing to make their products longer lasting and easier to disassemble, minimizing the need for new, virgin resources.
- The most important first step for EPR in Belgium is contributing to the data collection of what products are put on the market, including their composition and volumes.
- Even though EPRs are being roll-out on national levels, cross-country cooperation will be crucial, leveraging the strength of all countries’ specialties & existing supply chains.
Passion for quality as a family heritage
Jo was born into a knitting family and because of this, he can proudly say that he has worked in the industry for 46 years now. From the day he was born, Jo was employed as a baby “fitting” model and later learned plenty in his family’s design department and factory. Jo’s passion for manufacturing and all aspects surrounding the creation of quality products is linked to this.
“My grandmother, still very much alive at 97, was looking at me yesterday, asking, ‘What are you wearing? Is that quality? What brand is that?’ So I think I know where my passion and roots come from.”
Throughout his long career, ranging from working for both small and large designers such as Dries van Noten, to commercial retailers, Jo noticed that there are several aspects that need to be rethought in the industry. As an example, he explains that the industry used to make products of a certain quality, but as quality comes at a price, he’s seen a shift over the last 20 years. Today it’s no longer about buying a quality product but about buying a price. The situation is totally unbalanced, and this is taking a toll on the planet and the industry, not only on textile products.
I see it as my personal mission to bring quality back, quality allows the industry to make sustainable products, products that fit more into our planet’s ecosystem and fit the available resources that we have.
Being the Quality, Safety & Sustainability officer at Creamoda, the federation for Belgian fashion, Jo is the contact person for all matters concerning quality, including production, daily quality control, product design, safety aspects of a product…
Next to quality, Jo is also responsible for sustainability. What he notices here is that many people use the terms “sustainability” or “circular economy” frequently, however, the real implementation is complex. Many companies have been working for generations according to a certain economic model, and switching to a circular economy model is not easy and requires a totally different approach than the current practices.
There is also a big variety in the type of Creamoda members, as they all have different specializations:
- One-third are companies that manufacture, for themselves or for others, products related to consumer textiles or fashion;
- Another third are companies that manufacture professional products such as work – professional clothes (fireman’s suits…);
- The last third are companies that manufacture all other products, such as socks, household linen, car seats, tents, truck covers…
Jo explains that there are many hidden aspects in the industry, which means that within the federation they must be very flexible and be aware of the different aspects of manufacturing, the different types of products, and the different users and end-users as there are different markets being B2B, B2C, and B2Goverment.
As an example of what Creamoda does, Jo explains that often in the B2Goverment market, there is a lack of knowledge around Green procurement. Therefore, they created the Creamoda Technical Services, which Jo runs with his colleague Pauline Latruwe. Together, they not only provide information on tendering and on writing technical requirements for public procurement but also carry out factory inspections.
With a wide variety of activities, Jo’s main priority remains with the members, when they have urgent issues he’ll offer immediate support, for example, when a member is being subject to market controls/market surveillance and gets questions on product compliance.
E-P-R: Extended Producer Responsibility – Origin
- EPR: Extended Producer Responsibility
- UPV: Uitgebreide Producenten Verantwoordelijkheid
- REP: Responsabilité Elargie du Producteur
As an economic operator, whether you are a brand, a manufacturer, or an individual, who puts a product on the market for a consumer, for another brand, or for a public market, you take responsibility for its end of life.
The founding of EPR dates to the 1990s. Thomas Lindhqvist, a Swedish professor at Lund University, was asked by the government if it was possible to do something with the products that end up on the market, and after a certain period, are no longer used. This is where the EPR framework was introduced for the first time.
The proposal came at a time when the management of end-of-life products has become somewhat problematic in several countries. Landfill sites were increasing all over the world and Germany was the first country in 1991 to introduce a take-back system for products, in the first place for packaging, before other countries followed. They were the first country to put Lindhqvist’s theory of EPR into practice for plastics.
The goal of EPR was (and still is) not only to limit landfilling and waste heaps, but it also has a financial aspect: who is going to take responsibility for doing this, and more importantly, who will pay for it?
With these EPR or take-back systems, an economic corporate, a company, or a brand that puts products on the market has two options:
- Either they say: “I’ll take the product back myself and reuse it in my manufacturing, my production process, my new product development”
- Or, if they don’t have the size, capacity, or funding to do so, they can work with a collective system, or EPR 1.0 as it is called, for a certain amount of money or a fee per product, included in the price of the products that you sell. (The ‘statiegeld’ – deposit you pay for glass bottles in Belgium is a good example of how the system can/work(s).)
Jo believes, based on the experiences from the past years, that in this collective EPR 1.0 system, companies are not really forced or encouraged to rethink the products that they put on the market making them more environmentally friendly, less resource intensive, or easier to recycle. They can put their products on the market, and because of the fee, the system will take care of it end-of-life, no matter what.
EPR 1 to EPR 2.0
This is why Jo says that we need to rethink EPR into what we now call EPR 2.0.
The approach should be different and companies that make the effort to put on the market a product that is:
- designed to last longer
- more sustainable
- easy/easier to disassemble
should receive financial support or a discount on the collective fee because it is less harmful to the environment.
In our industry, we work with different materials relevant to the end use of the product (textile, leather, polymers, metals…), and these components must be easy to separate so that they can be reused in their original form. Companies that put on the market products that do not last and are difficult to dismantle cause more damage and are often the cheapest (although prices are not an indicator of quality or durability).
The idea of EPR 2.0 is to modulate the framework according to the impact of the products put on the market.
A double reality
The goal of EPR 2.0 might sound straightforward, but the design of the framework itself is not.
One of the most important statements Jo shares is that the reality today is that we still have a lot of linear products on the market, products not yet designed to be repaired or recycled. And this will not change over time. For quite some time in the future, there will be two parallel types of products on the market that will both require a different approach.
A message we also need to share with municipalities and governments. Europe for example has a Green Deal, with the idea of transforming our industry and our society from linear to circular. However, also here, a tailored approach will be needed, taking into account the two different streams that exist today and the heritage of these products in the market.
As an example, we often forget that most of the chemicals that are used in our textile products or other components are REACH-compliant. The REACH system was introduced in the early 2000s to ensure the safety of products and remove those that are harmful from the market. Every 6 months, an update of the chemical regulations is made. This means that when looking at taking back or recycling, it could be that you can no longer guarantee compliance with the latest REACH requirements.
Next to this, the complexity of recycling this current non-circular product stream on the market should not be overlooked. Although technology is advancing, the recycling of multiple fiber blends is a major challenge, again stressing the importance of considering a tailored approach for linear/circular products.
EPR into practice in France
France was the pioneer within Europe to implement the EPR and take-back schemes for textiles. In France, the approach is quite specific as it only concerns consumer textiles and footwear (which are mostly leather or polymer plastic). They have had time to experiment with what works, and customers have gotten used to the fact that there is an extra cost. It is only very recently that the institution in France that organises this collective system has also become the official PRO for consumer textiles as they call it. PRO stands for Producer Responsibility Organizations, the official or national organisation that organises the take-back of end-of-use or end-of-life products for certain industries.
The initial framework was set up according to EPR 1.0 as we call it and it is only very recently that they have made the switch to EPR 2.0 where they are experimenting with a modulated framework.
EPR in FRANCE
- If your product is longer lasting = your contribution to the EPR is less
- If your product is easy to assemble: your contribution to the EPR is less
- Your product is none of these, you pay the full cost or even extra
This is to stimulate those companies that do not make the effort and to give something back through the collection system to the companies that do make the effort.
This is a major step in the right direction as Jo states, even though there are still a lot of questions to be answered. For instance: How to check if the product is easy to disassemble? Is there a need for additional labeling? Can the digital passport be the solution here? If so, what information do we need to include? Information that will be crucial for the sorters to be able to send the right streams to the right partners. Or how will we calculate, scientifically, the lifespan of a product or its impact on the market?
A lot of research is going on, and step by step, the framework will be further optimized until there is a model that works for everybody without any free-riders abusing it.
EPR in the Netherlands
Just very recently the EPR for textiles was implemented in the Netherlands as well. Modint, one of Creamoda’s sister federations, has been working with them to set up the EPR model. They’ve learned from their experiences in France and have now managed to get an agreement with the government.
So in a few months, if you put products on the Dutch market, you will have the duty to inform the Dutch PRO about the product, its composition, and its volume. A step that is very much needed to get an idea of the type of material and the volumes put on the market in order to have a better view of the impact of new legislation or incentives. Meten is weten as we say in Flanders.
EPR in Belgium today
When asked about where we are in Belgium with the EPR today, it’s important to understand the role of Circletex, started 7 years ago by Creamoda. The initial idea was to do risk assessments on the products that are being made by our industry and the resources that we have. This is in line with the Club of Rome – a must following according to Jo. Every year they calculate the number of resources we have on the planet for each material and the related consumption, very often resulting in an imbalance. As most of our resources are limited, with Circletex the idea was to raise awareness and consolidate the resources used in our products and when they are no longer used, to try to get them back and reintegrate them into our new products. All this with the aim to lower the use of new, virgin materials.
With Circletex they launched this thinking with the members’ companies and with other organisations throughout Belgium.
Under the Green Deal Circular Procurement by Vlaanderen Circulair, 5 years ago, Circletex had the chance to test out and work towards a Belgian PRO (Producer Responsibility Organisation), for the industry products (consumer, professional textiles). Circletex started by creating traction and awareness around the topic of EPR. (5 – 6 years ago already – you can imagine the first reactions).
Since then, things have changed and two years ago Creamoda officially founded the VZW for Circletex together with the organisation for textile care (entretien textile – FBT, representing all laundry companies), Febelsafe (everything related to safety at work). Together they have been looking into how they can make the EPR system work.
In the beginning, the idea was to start working with some pioneers, focussing on 3 streams
- Flat linens
- Protective products
With an important role to inform the government & the industry about:
- The challenges around setting up the EPR
- How the legislation could help
- The impact the EPR would have on companies and on public procurement
- How to prolong the life of the products
Since the awareness is growing, Jo sees more willingness to cooperate with the EPR. And one of the latest steps they have taken is to also include consumer textiles in the scope. Companies can already join Circletex, for free today, contributing and preparing for the future Belgian EPR.
And the impact of Circletex does not stop there. Together with Euratex, the European Confederation saw that all countries are working on national EPR systems and models. And among these different countries, there is a clear need for a European network. The network necessary for the successful implementation of EPR in different countries exists, but the right links are often missing.
It should not be the aim nor the goal for a country like Belgium to set up a recycling system for wool, as an example, when the entire supply chain for this is already present, for many many years, in Italy. The goal is to really focus on the specialty and strength of our companies and actively seek collaboration with other countries instead of trying to compete. Cooperation, for all, will be crucial. And this is why Rehubs was born, with the aim of setting up Europe-wide collaborations for circular textiles, to really connect offer and demand.
The best sustainable product you can have is a quality product
Jo concludes by saying that while it is important to think about moving to a circular economy, companies need to keep in mind the economic viability. In the end, your customer will need to be willing to pay for your products.
Taking back products will cost money, the core focus should be on designing products of quality that will last a long time. That is the very best thing you can do in the circular economy.
“In the end, everything will need to be recycled but focus on that and explain that. Put that in your marketing message to your consumers and make it very viable. Don’t make any false claims. Whenever you make a claim, make sure it’s transparent and that people can verify that it’s true. I think that in the end, it’s the people who are willing to pay for your product that will make your business model sustainable.”
If this episode has inspired you to continue investing in sustainability and new collaboration, know that you can count on the support and experience of the Ellie.Connect network and the Ellie team along the way!