ETC/CE Report 2023/4 EU exports of used textiles in Europe’s circular economy

27 Feb 2023

Dina Lingås, Saskia Manshoven, Lars Fogh Mortensen, Freja Paulsen

This ETC/CE report provides the detailed analysis underpinning the EEA briefing 'EU exports of used textiles in Europe’s circular economy'.

Textiles are on average the fourth-highest source of pressure on the environment and climate change from a European consumption perspective, as shown in previous EEA briefings (these can be found here and here). As reuse and recycling capacities in Europe are limited, a large share of used textiles collected in the EU is traded and exported to Africa and Asia, and their fate is highly uncertain.

In this report, we look at the patterns and trends of EU used textile exports from 2000 to 2019, based on data from the United Nations (Comtrade) (UN Comtrade, 2022a). We show how exports have increased year by year and shifted from mainly going to Africa to being almost equally exported to Africa and Asia, and how the global trade of used textiles as a commodity is becoming more specialised. We also touch on how these two continents are overarchingly importing used textiles for different uses, and lastly the challenges around what happens to used textiles in the importing countries.