Young woman is browsing a rail of clothes at mall store.

New rules to clean up clothing on the horizon

Fashion has been earmarked for new green rules as part of an EU masterplan to move Europe away from the ‘take-make-use-throw away’ economy.

The EU is consuming as if we had three planets, putting huge pressure on our natural resources. And overproduction and overconsumption of fashion – which has doubled since 2000 – makes a huge contribution to these dangerous levels of resource extraction.

In today’s ‘Circular Economy Action Plan’, the EU executive outlined the need for a new comprehensive strategy for textiles including so-called ‘Ecodesign’ laws for textiles sold in Europe.

Europe’s own environment agency reports that after food, housing and transport, textiles are the fourth largest cause of environmental pressure with 675 million tonnes of materials being used every year to produce the clothing, footwear and household textiles consumed in the EU. Yet data shows that globally 73% of all textiles end up in landfill or incineration.

New rules could, for example, put in place requirements to provide spare buttons, thread and zips to make it easier to repair clothes, restrict the content of certain chemicals in a garment, and set standards to ensure fabrics are more resistant to ‘pilling’ – that annoying stage when your favourite clothes become fuzzy.

Stephane Arditi, Policy Manager for the Circular Economy at the European Environmental Bureau, said: “We can’t recycle our way out of fashion’s overconsumption problem, we need to reduce resource use by using products for longer and preventing waste in the first place. We welcome that the Circular Economy Action Plan has announced future new rules on how textiles should be produced, these must ensure that sustainable clothes become the norm.”

Arditi added: “We need a strong labelling scheme so we know what is on our clothes and how they were produced, and we must make producers responsible for the textiles they sell and the associated waste. This will be vital to foster business models based around reuse and repair.

Campaigners say it is essential that the Commission’s comprehensive strategy for textiles responds to both the environmental and social impact across the industry’s complex web of global supply chains, where poor working conditions and workers’ rights violations are rife.

In January, the EEB and 24 civil society groups from across the EU launched the Wardrobe Change campaign which is calling for EU leaders to take urgent action to rein in the fashion and textile sector.