What will extended producer responsibility (EPR) mean for contract laundries?

Should businesses be responsible for the eventual disposal of every textile item that they purchase and use? This is the principle behind extended producer responsibility (EPR), that some politicians and campaigners want to see enforced in the UK.

Versions of such a system are already in place in France and the Netherlands, and are also due to come into effect in Sweden, Finland, Norway, Bulgaria, Greece, and Spain. And here in the UK, climate action  non-governmental organisation, WRAP, is among others lobbying for a move away from the linear take-make-waste model, towards a circular economy.

While it’s fast fashion — piled high and sold cheaply — that usually takes the textiles spotlight for aggravating climate catastrophe, encouraging over-consumption and generating excessive waste, these implications are just as relevant for the commercial laundry world.

At present, while intentions may be good among some industry players, recycling systems are varied and patchy in their effectiveness. Commitments to buy less and use longer can be hard to honour day-to-day.

So, how can contract laundries move towards EPR? WRAP recently released its Textiles Policy Options paper and supporting Cost Benefits Analysis to provide the UK government with the “evidence and insights” necessary to make an informed decision on textiles policy. The work includes a shortlist of policy options including a heavy emphasis on reuse and recycling, with an overarching aim of halving textiles in residual waste over the next decade.

The Cost Benefits Analysis report looks at the environmental, societal and financial impacts on businesses and consumers. However, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Thérèse Coffey, has not yet committed to EPR for textiles. WRAP is also recommending eco-design criteria and effective product labelling for manufacturers, restrictions on landfill and incineration, grants and loans to develop recycling infrastructure, and an increase in bring-back banks and kerbside collections. 

Looking beyond extended producer responsibility

While the need for EPR should be considered as policy, it’s essential that all laundries consider a proactive and sensible approach to reducing their environmental impact through extending the life of already produced-textiles. Not only will this help reduce waste and ultimately lower the long-term costs of purchasing new linen, but there are more immediate environmental impacts too. 

The need for recycling is massively oversold, with recycling ranking as option 42 on a list of 82 possible actions to mitigate climate change, according to Project Drawdown.  Currently, demand for the recycling of cotton is about 700 times that of what is actually available, which begs the question — is the production of virgin cotton any more costly or worse for the environment compared to recycling initiatives? A simpler rating system which also sees recycling as a very mediocre solution is the Hierarchy of Waste Management, endorsed by the UK Government.

According to the Textile Services Association (TSA), 30 million pieces of waste fabric — equating to 2,000 tonnes — are buried as landfill each year. While commercial linen can often be ragged, it’s important for laundries to consider the sensible option and weigh up if its lifespan can be preserved for longer. 

Ultimately, while not using the earth’s resources to manufacture a new product is the preferred choice, re-using that item is the second best option for what to do next with it, according to the well-established and respected Hierarchy of Waste.

Regenex’s free white paper, Loving linen longer: Five carbon and money saving reasons to get the most out of laundry stock, is available to download now.

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