ANNUAL ETP CONFERENCE: circular-biobased-digital
More than 180 members of the European Textile Technology Platform (TextileETP) and other stakeholders from 30 countries gathered on 24-25 April in Brussels to explore future technology, industry and policy directions for the European Textile and Clothing industry. The former president Paolo Canonico stated during the opening ceremonies, as follows:

”Most professionals agree that the trends towards a more circular, bio-based,digital and smart textile and clothing industry is inevitable, but the technological, political and economic uncertainties in this process are high. I am calling upon continued support from EU policies and programmes to make this necessary transition successful especially for the many smaller companies of the sector.”

Cellulose gap

The continuous market share growth of synthetic fossil-based textile fibres experienced over the last decades may be soon challenged by man-made
cellulosics and a wide range of other bio-polymer based fibres. Hydrophobic synthetics are needed in most of products to response for mechanical properties and durability, and hydrophilic fibers are needed for their water uptake and comfort properties. Present main natural fibres like cotton or wool are unlikely to fill the “cellulose” gap. It may appear that a remarkable share of synthetic polymers is produced from bio-based monomers. These trends are driven by political and market pressures aiming at slowing down fossil CO2 release into the atmosphere and (micro)plastic pollution of land and seas.

Marine microplastics 

According to Michael Carus of Nova-Institut GmbH, Hürth (Cologne), textiledomestic laundries are releasing 35% of the ocean release of microparticles, especially microplastics through the waste waters. Smaller releases are coming from car tyres and from all types of city dusts. The particle size is on micro meter level and due to the inert chemical behavior very difficult to remove during wastewater treatment.

Limited evidence on the fate of natural animal and plant fibres such as wool and cotton in the environment comes from studies showing that biodegradation occurs in soils in weeks to months. Laboratory and in-situ experiments from New Zealand concluded that wool fibre is also biodegradable in marine environments under the action of the wool degrading enzymes. Observations of textile-related marine debris in the United States indicate that whereas acotton T-shirt disappears in 2–5months and a wool sock in1–5years, plastic fibres take decades (30–40years for polyamide fabric) to hundreds of years (450years for disposable PP-diaper).

Other studies made by Norwegian, U.S., Dutch and Chilean marine researchers on Pacific Ocean´s flotating plastic wastes have shown, that the amount of micro and  nanoparticles can be higher than of plankton in condensed vortex areas. Due to the insolubility of plastics in water, some of the toxic organic pesticides and monomers are attached on particle surfaces, such as DDT, PCB and BPA.

Source: Beverley Henrya, KirsiLaitala, IngunGrimstadKlepp(2019): Microfibres from apparel and home textiles: Prospects for including microplastics inenvironmental sustainability assessment. Science of the Total Environment 652(2019) 483-494.

Global approach to sustainability by UN

The keynote speaker Janez Potocnik, former EU Commissioner for R&D&E and cochair UNEP International Resource Panel (IRP) stressed that ”Current climate change policies in Europe and worldwide focus tao one-sidedly on CO2 and theenergy transition, while neglecting other crucial elements such as land, water and materials use and how to decouple the increase of global welfare from growth in the use of these resources. A sector like textiles and clothing must make its own contribution to a responsible management of these resources if it wants to call itself sustainable.”

According to Potoznik, Circular Economy (CE) should be a clear priority of the next European Commission by establishing a credible, mutually reinforcing link between CE/Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and competitiveness. Further building new coalitions for CE change by broadening ownership of the CE idea – partnering with those dealing with climate change, bio-economy, health, digital transformation, regional policy, research and innovation, international relations, development aid, and trade. Continued working on plastics but add also the product groups beyond the plastics (textile, food) is needed. Thus, in future CE programmes improving the extended producer responsibility is needed, as wel as eco-design to deliver the whole potential and focus on economic signals and drivers –taxes, subsidies, public procurement. Continue working on data, reporting, and on greening the financing.

Circular Economy

Focus on retaining value in the CE process and on social aspects of CE transition. The final results of the EU project Bio4Self demonstrated that bio-based textile fibres can find uses well beyond clothing and interior textiles and make for interesting solutions for many technical textile and composite markets, provided they are processed in the correct way. The results of EU-project RESYNTEX, which explored the technological feasibility and economic viability of bio-chemical recycling of major textile fibre types, was presented in a full session. The way to large-scale industrial application however is still long and an expert panel discussion at the end of the RESYNTEX session concluded that significant further technology development work is needed and must be complemented by smart regulatory and economic incentives before major industry investments can be made. The digital transformation of manufacturing, industrial supply chains and distribution is another inevitable innovation trend for the textile and clothing industry. lt doesn’t only enable to use of data to optimize and speed up processes, but also creates unprecedented levels of transparency in global value chains all the way to the end consumer. This in turn leads to the rise of new business models that expose and exploit unbalanced value capture in current global fashion supply chains and potentially eradicate the massive amounts of waste and
overproduction in the conventional fast fashion system. EU projects such as TCBL or FBD_BMODEL try to demonstrate that local and regional creative business labsconnected to digital microfactories for efficient short run production can be the answer and reorient the fashion business from a cost-based to a value-based competitive model.

Digital technology

The fusion of digital technologies with textile and fashion products in the form ofsmart textiles or fashion tech is another major avenue for innovation and eventual business growth. The soon to start EU project SmartX will seed-fund 40 projects to accelerate manufacturing of smart technical textile products and the already running DeFINE project coaches fashiontech start up’s and small companies all
across Europe.The financial support of the European Commission for textile research and innovation through programmes such as HORIZON 2020 has the potential to pick up further in the coming years as many textile innovations cater to key themes in Europe’s research and innovation policies such as sustainability, circular economy,bio-based materials, personalized health or the digitization of EU industry.

Closing session keynote speaker Peter Dröll, Director of lndustrial Technologies at the European Commission’s DG Research and lnnovation encouraged the industry and its research community ”to come with bold ideas for globally impactful textile innovations to be supported in the upcoming EU research and innovation.

To prepare the European textile and clothing industry and research community for these new challenges the Textile ETP in its General Assembly adopted a new strategy for the coming years. The Platform will work more focussed ane a few selected strategic textile innovation themes and try to involve all value chain actors in these technologies or markets, whether textile or textile-related.

The General Assembly also endorsed the members of its Governing Board for the period of July 2019 to June 2020 and elected Michael Kamm, Germany as its new President. Out-going President Paolo Canonico, ltaly will remain at the Board as Vice-President Treasurer, joined by Katarzyna Grabowska, AUTEX (Poland) and Braz Costa, Textranet (Portugal) as further Vice Presidents.