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The EU wants the textile industry to pay for the processing of discarded clothing and footwear under new rules aimed at cutting the environmental footprint of fast-fashion brands.
The proposal, presented by the European Commission on Wednesday, would push clothing companies to improve the recyclability of their products and catalyse a growing second market, it said.
“You can’t ban people from buying new things if they can afford it and they feel like it,” said Virginijus Sinkevičius, the EU’s environment commissioner. “What I need to ensure is that even if they do, at the end of life of those goods can find a better way than being . . . incinerated or dumped in Africa.”
Fast-fashion brands such as the online retailers Shein and Boohoo and high street clothing giants H&M and Inditex, which owns Zara, have come under increasing pressure to move away from low-cost business models that have resulted in millions of tonnes of clothes being trashed.
The equivalent of 12kg of clothes and footwear per EU citizen is discarded each year of which more than three-quarters is incinerated or goes to landfill, according to commission data. The consumption of clothing and footwear is expected to increase by 63 per cent from 62mn tonnes in 2019 to 102mn tonnes in 2030, European Environment Agency data suggests.
According to the proposal, companies that sell to consumers in the EU would be responsible for paying for the treatment of any waste textiles with the amount charged dependent on the amount of processing required.
Similar measures are already in place in EU countries such as France and Spain, and member states are already obliged to put in place systems for collecting textile waste by 2025 under separate rules.
An EU official said that by the commission’s estimates the cost of making companies pay for clothing waste would amount to the equivalent of around €0.12 per T-shirt but it would vary according to the product and what treatment was needed.
Fees could be reduced if a garment was made more sustainably, the official said. “Fast fashion is a problem,” the person said, adding that modulating the charges would encourage retailers to think harder about the potential for reusing or recycling their products.
EuroCommerce, the retail industry body, said it backed the idea but wanted the rules to be harmonised across all of the EU’s 27 member states when they were implemented.
Companies wanted to sell more sustainable products, it said, but were hampered by the lack of recycling infrastructure. “Finance and investment are needed to achieve this high level of textile waste collection,” the trade body said.
H&M also said it backed the measures and aimed for 30 per cent of its clothes to be made from recycled fibres by 2025. Euratex, the textile industry body, said that it was working on pilot projects with small fabric manufacturers in 11 textile producing regions to create a closed loop system with clothes better designed for recycling.
But the proposed measures are likely to disappoint lawmakers in the European parliament who have called for an “end to fast fashion” and the setting of specific targets for textile waste collection, prevention and recycling.
The proposal was issued at the same time as a revision of food waste rules and new legislation governing the health of the bloc’s soils and use of new techniques for genetically modifying crops.
It will have to be agreed in negotiations between EU member states — which last month backed a ban on the destruction of unsold clothing — and the European parliament before it becomes law.
A report published this week by the European Court of Auditors suggested there was little appetite among EU countries to increase the proportion of recycled material that was circulating in their economies. The authors said that levels of circularity in seven countries, including Sweden and Denmark, had gone backwards.
“EU action has been so far powerless, meaning the circular transition is unfortunately almost at a standstill in European countries,” said Annemie Turtelboom, a member of the ECA.
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