Businesses, regulators, and the public are increasingly aware that it cannot be business as usual or without regard to the environment. The fashion industry is one example. In the European Union, textile consumption has the fourth highest impact on the environment and climate change, behind food, housing, and mobility. It is one of the top three pressures on water and land use and is in the top five for raw material use and greenhouse gas emissions. Globally, textile production has doubled between 2000 and 2015, less than 1% of clothing material is recycled into new clothing, and up to 35% of all microplastics released into the environment can be traced back to textile products. These are some of the sobering statistics in a factsheet and other publications from the European Commission, which is the European Union’s (EU’s) executive branch.
So, on March 30, 2022, the European Commission announced its EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles (the “Strategy”). The Strategy was a direct response to the statistics above. The Strategy 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.”
Clothing makes up the bulk (as much as 81% in one source that the Strategy cites) of textile consumption and, as such, is worthy of attention. Of particular concern is fast fashion. Fast fashion is the rapid production of large volumes of low-priced, low-quality, and trendy clothing to entice consumers to keep up with runway and celebrity fashions. The result is that consumers use or keep clothes for increasingly shorter periods before discarding them.
The following are just three of the actions that the Strategy will address:
- Design requirements for textiles to make them longer lasting and easier to repair and recycle.
- Tackling greenwashing through labelling or other performance standards, consumer awareness, and other means. (Greenwashing refers to unsubstantiated claims and other deceptive practices that are used to trick consumers and others into believing that products or services are more environmentally friendly and sustainable than they really are). According to a source cited in the Strategy, as high as 39% of sustainability claims in the textile, garment, and shoe sectors could be false or defective.
- Microplastics pollution of the environment (especially to marine life) from polyester and other synthetic fibres. Pre-washing at factories that use filters and design, labelling, product content, and other standards will combat this problem.
The Strategy affects any business intending to sell clothing or other textiles in the EU. Brands like H&M, Zara, Gucci, and Stella McCartney have already started to gear up for these new EU requirements.
See the online versions of the following articles from the Wall Street Journal: August 22, 2022, for H&M Aims to Cut Emissions and Grow Sales; September 7, 2022, for EU Regulators Add to Push For Single-Material Clothes; November 15, 2022, for Fashion Giants Pledge More Recycled Fibers.
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