TALLINN – A recent study by Scandinavian and Baltic researchers shows that the Baltic states have great potential to create a circular textile system in cooperation with the Nordic countries, but that many important steps need to be taken by policymakers and stakeholders to realize this.
The study was conducted by PlanMiljo in Denmark, the Tallinn Center of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) in Estonia, Green Liberty in Latvia and Textale and KTU APINI in Lithuania. According to SEI Tallinn, the study was funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers.
According to the analysis, the Baltic states have good preconditions for developing a circular economic model in the clothing and textile sector. The volume of consumption of new textile products here, for example, is significantly lower than in the Nordic countries, and the purchase of used clothing is an established part of people's consumption behavior.
Second-hand clothing accounts for up to 29 percent of all Latvian and Lithuanian and 16 percent of all Estonian textile consumption. In addition, researchers estimate that there are significant opportunities in the region for sorting and reusing used clothing and textiles.
According to the researchers, if the right incentives and political will are in place, this capability could also be used to divert non-reusable clothing and textiles to reprocessing.
The Baltic states imported over 90,000 tons of used textiles in 2018 for sorting and processing and all lie among Europe’s top four importers of used textiles when measured in kg/capita. A quarter of imported used textiles come from Nordic countries. As such, the Baltic region is an important element in the circular economy of Nordic textiles.
In contrast, the collection of post-consumer used clothing and textiles from households in the Baltics is relatively rudimentary, according to the study.
According to the amended Waste Framework Directive, by 2025, EU member states are obliged to have a system in place for separate collection of textiles. This means that all used garments and textiles (both reusable and non-reusable textiles) must be collected separately for reuse and recycling by 2025. This will also apply to Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.
"Before conducting the study, we had little knowledge of what happens to used clothing and textiles in the Baltics," project initiator and expert Kerli Kant Hvass said in a press release.
She added that generating this knowledge was the first important step towards meeting the 2025 requirement. "In addition, we wanted to involve specific stakeholders in the development of a more circular textile system," Kant Hvass said.
Altogether 30 percent of purchased new textiles in Estonia are collected separately when they are no longer wished for, comparable with Nordic collection rates. Collection rates are significantly lower in Lithuania and Latvia at 11 percent and 5 percent, respectively. The remainder ends in mixed waste destined for landfill or incineration.
Kristiina Martin, head of the study and expert at SEI Tallinn, said that landfilling and incineration of waste is the result of a lack of ability to recycle textiles in the Baltics.
"Therefore, it is extremely important to invest in and start developing new recycling solutions, and this should be done in cooperation with other Baltic countries as well as taking into account the knowledge and experience of the Nordic countries," Martin said.
In order to support the development of a circular textile system in the Baltics, researchers believe that clear policy goals with supporting measures are needed.
It is also necessary to promote separate collection, re-use and the further development of recycling of used clothing and textiles in order to change the current situation where large quantities of textiles end up in landfills or incineration.
The study was carried out as part of the Nordic-Baltic textile system development project.