The current and future state of European regulations towards sustainability in the fashion industry

The European Union has set out to regulate the fashion industry towards sustainability, but progress has been slow in terms of implementing this regulation. Although many directives have been issued, there is still a lot of work to be done to issue more and stricter laws. However, the good news is that things are starting to change quickly. In this blog post, we will take a closer look at the current state of European regulation in fashion sustainability, including the measures addressed by the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles, which aims to cover the entire life cycle of textile products, while supporting the ecosystem in the ecological and digital transitions. In this blog post, we will discuss directives, regulations and strategies for textile circularity, including eco-design, digital passports for textile products, sector transparency and greenwashing, unintended release of microplastics from textiles, packaging and textile surplus management and extended producer responsibility.

Eco-design requirements for textiles

Directive 2009/125/EC of 2009 stablishes a framework for ecodesign in textile products. In 2021 alone, the impact of ecodesign measures was a saving of €120 billion in energy costs for EU consumers. Now, a new Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) is proposed that extends the scope of the current Directive to improve the circularity and sustainability of almost all categories of physical products placed on the EU market.

This new sustainable product regulation, which is part of the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles proposed on March 30, could facilitate primary energy savings of 132 million tons of oil equivalent by 2030. The European Commission has already launched an online public consultation in order to establish which will be the priorities for the new productions. The consultation will remain open until April 25.

In addition, along with the proposed Sustainable Products Regulation, a roadmap on eco-design and energy labeling 2022-2024 was published that includes new energy-related products and updates and increases the ambition of already regulated products. The framework will enable performance and information requirements, including a digital product passport, which will provide information on the environmental sustainability of products and is already being implemented in France.

The digital passport for textile products and energy labeling

In addition to setting requirements on how products should be manufactured, the Eco-design Regulation for sustainable products is also a framework for setting requirements for providing information on the environmental sustainability of products. sustainability of products. Depending on the product, this may include information on energy consumption, recycled content, presence of substances of concern, durability, recycled content, availability including a reparability score, availability of spare parts, and recyclability. 

All of this information will be able to be collected in digital product passports, which will allow products to be labeled, identified and linked to data relevant to their circularity and sustainability. Although currently only being implemented in France, these digital passports will progressively become the standard for all European products regulated by the Sustainable Product Ecodesign Regulation, allowing products to be labeled, identified and linked to data relevant to their circularity and sustainability.

In addition, the implementation of product passports will enable consumers to make more informed choices, improve transparency and help national authorities enforce regulations, and would benefit businesses along the value chain by helping to improve environmental performance, extend product lifetimes, and increase efficiency and the use of secondary raw materials, thereby reducing the need for natural resources, saving costs and reducing strategic dependencies. This will also help to track the presence of substances of concern throughout the entire life cycle of materials and products, respecting the commitments made in the Sustainability Strategy for Chemicals and contributing to the EU’s goal of zero pollution.

The Commission will also review the Textile Labeling Regulation, which requires textile products sold on the EU market to carry a label that clearly identifies the fiber composition and indicates any non-textile elements of animal origin, as well as incorporating circularity aspects, such as a reparability score, the size of the products and, where applicable, the country in which the manufacturing processes take place (“Made in”).

In the context of the above proposals, the Commission will also consider the possibility of introducing a digital label.

Sector transparency and greenwashing

Textile Labelling Act

The legislation currently available regarding transparency of textile products is the Textile Labelling Act (1007/2011), which establishes rules for the labeling of textile products and aims to promote a circular economy in the textile sector. It requires manufacturers to label their products with information on fiber composition, care instructions, and country of origin, and sets out requirements for the use of certain labeling terms, such as “organic” and “recycled.”

Controlling greenwashing and misleading advertising

Until now, greenwashing or ecological bleaching has not been regulated by legislation of its own in Europe. Although some European countries have implemented minor regulations and France has introduced the Climate and Resilience Law, which focuses mainly on carbon neutrality and not on sustainability in general, greenwashing has only been able to be linked to misleading advertising directives. However, this year sees the entry into force of the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), a new EU legislation that will require all large companies to publish regular reports on their environmental and social impact activities. The first companies will have to apply the new rules for the first time in financial year 2024, for reports published in 2025.

Even so, companies will still have to comply with the current misleading advertising directive, which states the following regarding false environmental claims:

The Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (DPCD) does not have specific rules on environmental claims, but states that traders must not make misleading claims to consumers. The DPCD allows traders to use environmental claims as long as they are not misleading and are based on evidence.

Based on Articles 6 and 7 of the DPCD relating to misleading acts and omissions, environmental claims must be truthful, contain no false information and be presented in a clear and accurate manner so as not to mislead consumers (e.g. using the term “biodegradable” to refer to a product that is not actually biodegradable or has not been tested). Therefore, implied claims such as images and the overall presentation of the product (i.e. design, choice of colors, pictures, illustrations, sounds, symbols and labels) must be a true and accurate representation of the magnitude of the environmental benefits and must not exaggerate the benefits obtained, or else they would also qualify as misleading advertising.

Based on Article 12 of the DPCD, traders must have evidence to support their claims and be prepared to provide it to the competent enforcement authorities in a comprehensible manner in case the claim is challenged.

Annex I of the DPCD prohibits unfair practices in relation to specific claims or the marketing of relevant certifications, labels and codes of conduct. Environmental claims must be accurate representations of environmental benefits and not exaggerate the benefits obtained.


The release of microplastics from textiles

Microplastic pollution has become widespread in nature, particularly in the marine environment, and is, increasingly, a cause for serious concern. A major source of unintentional release of microplastics is textiles made from synthetic fibers. It is estimated that about 60% of the fibers used in clothing are synthetic, predominantly polyester, and this amount is increasing. Since the greatest amount of microplastics is released in the first five to ten washes, fast fashion, associated with the increasing use of synthetic fibers of fossil origin, has a major impact on microplastic pollution. In washing machine effluent alone, up to 40,000 tons of synthetic fibers are released each year.

To address this problem, in the second half of last year, the European Commission launched a first draft proposal to restrict intentionally added microplastics. This initiative could ban the use of microplastics in the fashion industry, and thus cover preventable sources of microplastics. In addition to product design, measures will focus on manufacturing processes, pre-washing in industrial manufacturing plants, labeling and the promotion of innovative materials. Other options include filters for washing machines, which can reduce the volume released during washing by up to 80%, the development of mild detergents, care and washing guidelines, and end-of-life treatment of textile waste, emphasizing the importance of following circular textile treatment patterns.

The packaging of products and materials

The Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EC) aims to reduce the environmental impact of packaging waste. It requires Member States to take measures to ensure that packaging waste is reduced, reused or recycled, and sets recycling targets for different materials. The European Commission is currently working to propose an EU regulation to update this directive.

Fighting textile waste

Among the measures of the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles, it is also planned to create harmonized EU rules on extended textile producer responsibility and economic incentives to make products more sustainable (“ecomodulation of fees”), as part of the revision of the Waste Framework Directive in 2023.

The Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) sets the general framework for waste management in the EU. It stresses the importance of the waste hierarchy, which prioritizes prevention, reuse and recycling over disposal. It establishes measures to protect the environment and human health by preventing or reducing the adverse impacts of waste generation and management and by reducing the overall impacts of resource use and improving resource use efficiency.

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