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March 31, 2022updated 04 Apr 2022 8:58am

Tougher rules for fashion industry under new EU textiles strategy

Clothing sold in Europe must be longer-lasting, easier to repair and its journey to point of sale traceable, under the new EU textiles strategy proposed by the EU Commission.

By Hannah Abdulla

The Commission is presenting the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles aimed at making textiles more durable, repairable, reusable and recyclable, to tackle fast fashion, textile waste and the destruction of unsold textiles, and ensure their production takes place in full respect of social rights.

The move is part of the EU Green Deal which proposes to make sustainable products “the norm in the EU”, boost circular business models and empower consumers for the green transition. . As announced in the Circular Economy Action Plan, the Commission is proposing new rules to make almost all physical goods on the EU market more friendly to the environment, circular, and energy-efficient throughout their whole lifecycle from the design phase through to daily use, repurposing and end-of-life.

Manufacturers will have to ensure their clothes are eco-friendly and long-lasting and consumers will be given more information on how to reuse, repair and recycle clothing.

The EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles sets out the vision and concrete actions to ensure that by 2030 textile products placed on the EU market are long-lived and recyclable, made as much as possible of recycled fibres, free of hazardous substances and produced in respect of social rights and the environment.

Consumers will benefit longer from high-quality textiles, fast fashion should be out of fashion, and economically profitable re-use and repair services should be widely available.

In a competitive, resilient and innovative textiles sector, producers have to take responsibility for their products along the value chain, including when they become waste. In this way, the circular textiles ecosystem will be thriving, and be driven by sufficient capacities for innovative fibre-to-fibre recycling, while the incineration and landfilling of textiles has to be reduced to the minimum.

The specific measures will include ecodesign requirements for textiles, clearer information, a Digital Product Passport and a mandatory EU extended producer responsibility scheme. It also foresees measures to tackle the unintentional release of microplastics from textiles, ensure the accuracy of green claims, and boost circular business models, including reuse and repair services. To address fast fashion, the EU textiles strategy also calls on companies to reduce the number of collections per year, take responsibility and act to minimise their carbon and environmental footprints, and on Member States to adopt favourable taxation measures for the reuse and repair sector. The Commission will promote the shift also with awareness-raising activities.

The EU textiles strategy also aims to provide support to and accompany the textiles ecosystem throughout its transformative journey. Therefore, the Commission is launching today the co-creation of a transition pathway for the textiles ecosystem. This is an essential collaborative tool to help the ecosystem to recover from negative impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic which have been affecting companies in their daily operations for the last two years. It will also strengthen their capacities to withstand both fierce global competition and future shocks for their long-term survival. All the actors are encouraged to take active part in the co-creation process through their commitments on circularity and circular business models, actions to strengthen sustainable competitiveness, digitalisation and resilience, and identification of specific investments needed for the twin transition. 

“It’s time to end the model of ‘take, make, break, and throw away’ that is so harmful to our planet, our health and our economy. Today’s proposals will ensure that only the most sustainable products are sold in Europe. They allow consumers to save energy, repair and not replace broken products, and make smart environmental choices when they are shopping for new ones. This is how we bring balance back in our relationship with nature and reduce our vulnerability to disruptions in global supply chains,” executive vice-president for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans says.

Commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton adds: “European consumers rightly expect more environment-friendly and longer-lasting products. More sustainability and resource efficiency also means more resilience when a crisis disrupts our industrial supply chains. By harnessing the potential of the Single Market, making the most of digital tools and improving market surveillance, we will maximise opportunities for businesses and consumers alike. Greater resource and energy efficiency in the construction and textile sectors in particular will generate highly skilled jobs across Europe.”

While commissioner for the environment, oceans and fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, notes the circular economy proposals kick off an era where products will be designed in a way that brings benefits to all, respects the boundaries of our planet and protects the environment.

“Giving a longer lifespan to the phones we use, to the clothes we wear and to many other products will save money for European consumers. And at the end of their life products will not be a source of pollution, but of new materials for the economy, decreasing the dependency of European businesses on imports,” Sinkevičius says. 

Commission proposes new consumer rights and a ban on greenwashing

Separately, the Commission is proposing to update the EU consumer rules to empower consumers for the green transition. The updated rules will ensure that consumers can take informed and environment-friendly choices when buying their products. Consumers will have a right to know how long a product is designed to last for and how, if at all, it can be repaired. In addition, the rules will strengthen consumer protection against untrustworthy or false environmental claims, banning ‘greenwashing’ and practices misleading consumers about the durability of a product.

Commissioner for justice, Didier Reynders, notes: If we do not start consuming more sustainably, we will not achieve our European Green Deal goals – it is as simple as that. While most consumers are willing to contribute, we have also seen an increase in ‘greenwashing’ and early obsolescence practices. To become the real actors of the green transition, consumers must have a right to information to make sustainable choices. They must also be protected against unfair commercial practices which abuse their interest in buying green.”

What the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles means for the industry

The European Textiles Association (EURATEX) said it welcomed the EU ambitions to act on sustainable textiles and investments, in order to change how textiles are made, chosen and recovered and said many businesses have already taken the steps to prepare for it. But it called for sensible and realistic implementation.

“The Textile strategy is part of much broader package, including as many as 16 new legislative actions and other policies which will directly impact on textile value chain,” the body said.

“In particular the Sustainable Product Initiative Regulation released today includes game-changing provisions on Digital Product Passport, Eco-Design, SMEs and Green Public Procurement.  The regulation has an overwhelming ambition and, to be realistic, it would require a new way of joint working between institutions and business, and which builds on lessons learned on data flow across value chains, interoperability, conformity assessment and effective measures to support SMEs.

“If wrongly implemented, such an unprecedented wave may cause a complete collapse of the European textile value chain under the burden of restrictions, requirements, costs and unlevel playing field. On the contrary, the changes ahead can boom the entire textile ecosystem and create a model of successful green and digital transition in manufacturing, which starts in Europe and expands globally.”

In 2019, Euratex asked policymakers to work together and remove barriers to circular economy, solve the market surveillance paradox in which laws are made but not checked, and to help create scale economies to make sustainable textiles affordable, hence the norm.

“There are 28bn products circulating per year in EU, which is an impressive task for market surveillance authorities including customs,” the body asserted.

“Euratex has been stressing non-sufficient market surveillance and it is actively working on solutions for a fair and effective market surveillance of textile products through Reach4Textiles. Euratex very much welcomes that the European Commission recognizes our work and the need for market surveillance by establishing more harmonised efforts in the EU.

“Euratex also welcomes the establishment of the Digital Product Passport. It has a high potential to improve every step in the textile value chain, from design and manufacturing to recycling and purchasing. At the same time, Euratex calls the co-legislators to take into account the role of SME’s in this transition and to put forward pragmatic initiatives, supporting SME’s across the EU in a systematic approach.”

Adam Mansell, CEO of UKFT, added: “The EU textiles sustainability strategy is very ambitious. It looks to tackle issues such as the destruction of unsold products and the overreliance of the industry shipping used textiles to Africa. We will be watching the developments of the strategy very closely as it is extremely likely that the UK government will look to follow suit. The UK is already looking at making retailers responsible for the safe disposal of garments at the end of life and UKFT is lobbying government to help ensure we develop the technology and infrastructure to capture the value in discarded clothing.”

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