Euro trade group says hemp can be key to a sustainable textile sector

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As the European Union’s strategy for the textile industry evolves, hemp can play a critical role in making the sector sustainable, Europe’s leading industrial hemp group argues in a recently released position paper.

“Given the interest of the (European) Commission to explore new materials and business models as well as the high economic and environmental value of hemp farming, hemp fiber shall be one of the main natural fibers that the EU should look at with the aim of creating a truly European and sustainable textile sector,” the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) wrote in the paper.

The Association said the EU should foster collaboration to advance the development of innovative processes and products while encouraging the re-localization of all stages of textile production to regain “partial raw material sovereignty.”

EU’s goals

The textile industry has been flagged as a key sector in Europe’s transition toward a greener and more sustainable economy. The fourth biggest industrial consumer of primary raw materials and water – after food, housing and transport – the sector ranks fifth in greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EU.

The EU Strategy for Textiles aims to boost the market for sustainable textiles while creating new green business models. The strategy envisions developing eco-design measures, promotes the uptake of secondary raw materials, and encourages the reduction of hazardous chemicals used in processing – all while giving business and private consumers greater access to environmentally friendly products.

‘A positive cascade’

Predominantly comprising small and medium enterprises, Europe’s textile sector has started to recover after a long period of restructuring, according to the European Commission. However, 60% of clothing in the EU is still produced elsewhere when considered in value terms. 

“By processing (textiles) on the EU territory, it could steer a positive cascade effect downstream in the textile product value chain and boost the creation of new jobs, greatly appealing for young farmers and enterpreneurs,” the EIHA says in the paper. “A thriving hemp textile industry would give impetus to the breeding of new (hemp) varieties: this would result in an increased quality of the fiber and its co-products (seeds, shivs, green material), hence enhancing the multipurpose character of the crop.”

Other recommendations

In other recommendations from the paper, EIHA urged the European Commission to:

  • Recognize the potential of hemp for carbon storage in the soil, the decarbonization of manufactured goods, and the other eco-system benefits hemp farming provides, such as biodiversity, and soil protection and restoration. “Hence, the increase of natural fiber share on the market shall be seen as a valuable alternative and necessary complement of an enhanced synthetic textile recycling, as well as a concrete action for reducing and/or balancing CO2 emissions,” according to EIHA.
  • Consider the recyclability and compostability of finished goods as essential to achieving zero waste levels, and encourage full circularity across the value chain.
  • Emphasize evaluation of the best available technologies, support innovation and adopt governance tools essential to the development of a “new but traditional supply chain.”
  • Work with the industry to reduce polluting agents from farming to recycling through research and development projects and policy. “Considering the urgency of the micro-plastic pollution issue, binding and clear rules should be drawn to compel companies operating within the European market to put an end to micro-plastic release by a clear deadline,” EIHA suggested.
  • Employ block-chain and matrix barcode technologies to provide traceability, and certification systems, to inform consumers on the sustainability of products.
  • Not consider private certification schemes already used in the textile industry as established standards. “Furthermore, their use in B2B and B2C should not be encouraged as it steers a scattered approach, resulting in possible inequalities among operators,” EIHA noted.
  • Establish multi-stakeholder dialogue in which all participants in the value chain can raise their concerns on an equal footing and contribute in full transparency to the designing of policies.

[Read the EIHA position paper]

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