The EU strategy for sustainable textiles25 May 2022
Fashion brands need to adapt to new requirements by 2030.
Last month the European commission set out a plan to make clothes, amongst other physical goods, more sustainable. This proposal, called "EU strategy for sustainable and circular textiles", is part of the Circular Economy Action Plan. The focus on textiles comes as no surprise given the growth of the fast fashion industry that’s responsible for major social and environmental impacts.
Regulation needs to step up to tackle the fashion industry’s growing impacts, which are largely due to a dependency on fossil fuels for synthetic fibres. These are increasingly used to meet the demand for cheaply made, trend led clothes, most of which are being imported into the EU from abroad with little information regarding their production process.
In line with the Sustainable Development Goals, the European Commission plans to set out requirements for the fashion sector to be met by 2030, that range from measures to embrace a circular economy to regulations on extended producer responsibility.
Embracing the circular economy
Between 1996 and 2018 clothing prices in the EU decreased by over 30% relative to inflation, yet average household expenditure on clothing increased. This is linked to the trend of overconsumption, supported by the fast fashion industry that has its root in a linear business model. This wasteful model is characterised by a focus on quantity rather than quality when producing apparel and low rates of reuse, repair and fibre-to-fibre recycling of textiles.
The European Union vice president Frans Timmermans explained "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”. The goal is indeed to move towards a circular economy, promoting goods that are sustainably made, longer-lasting and easier to repair and recycle. Under the plan, products sold in Europe would be developed following a sustainability scale that demonstrates the products’ environmental impact, their durability and how easily they could be repaired.
"We want sustainable products to become the norm on the European market"
Frans Timmermans, EU vice president
Currently just 1% of textile waste is recycled into new textiles. Recycling technologies need to be improved to increase textile recycling, yet improving product design can already bring significant improvements. Drawing on previous criteria, the EU commission urges brands to use the voluntary Ecolabel, established in 2014 as an award scheme to promote products with a reduced environmental impact during their entire life cycle. In the meantime the commission plans to develop a product specific regulation by the end of 2022, which will improve durability, reusability, repairability, fibre-to-fibre recyclability and set out mandatory recycled fibre content.
Extended Producer Responsibility
To disincentivize the destruction of unsold or returned garments, under the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation, large companies will be required to publicly disclose the number of products they discard and destroy. This will be strengthened with proposed extended producer responsibility rules which will be announced as part of the waste framework directive in 2023.
“By 2030 textiles placed on the EU market should be long-lived and recyclable, made to a large extent of recycled fibres.”
Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU environment commissioner
Digital product passport
The commission will review the textile labelling regulation that currently requires textiles sold on the EU market to carry a label identifying the fibre composition, with plans to extend it to introduce mandatory disclosure of other types of information, such as sustainability and circularity parameters, products’ size and, where applicable, the country where manufacturing processes take place, all under a digital product passport. This should display clear, structured and accessible information on the environmental sustainability characteristics of products, helping consumers make better choices.
A recent screening of sustainability claims in the textile, garment and shoe sector suggested that 39% could be false or deceptive . To tackle greenwashing the commission sets out new rules that will ensure that consumers are provided with information about products’ durability and repairability. It will also rule out any vague or misleading green advertising such as “green”, “eco-friendly”, “good for the environment”, that will only be allowed if underpinned by recognised environmental performance.
“Voluntary sustainability labels covering environmental or social aspects will have to rely on a third party verification or be established by public authorities”
Frans Timmermans, EU vice president
The focus of the strategy is also on social sustainability, as major fashion brands push for lower wages, unethical labour is not uncommon. Improving the sustainability of brands that operate in Europe will have a positive global impact, improving the lives of some 75 million workers employed in fashion supply chains. The strategy also hopes to bring training programmes under the EU pact for skills, focusing on eco-design, fibre development, innovative textile production, repair and reuse as “The textiles ecosystem requires a highly skilled workforce to unlock the potential for the employment opportunities brought by the digital and green transitions”.
How Sustainable Brand Platform can help
The textile sector has been unregulated for far too long and whilst this proposal will take several years to transform into concrete legislation, brands and retailers need to pay attention and understand now how to adapt to more stringent global regulations in fashion. This is how SBP can help, with our digital services we help brands take control of their supply chain, increasing transparency in the production process to mitigate risks and lower costs. With our services brands can avoid greenwashing and instead embrace true, fact-based, science-proof sustainability that enables them to comply with the regulations that are about to come very soon.