European Commission wants fast fashion to go out of fashion
The European Commission recently issued a package of proposals aimed at making fashion products within the EU internal market more environmentally friendly. This blog post looks at why the European Commission is targeting fast fashion and how they suggest to reduce waste.
Following the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s 2022 report, few can doubt the scale and existential significance of the climate emergency. What may be less well-known is the fact that textile production is the fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, behind food production, housing and transport, as well as being resource intensive - consuming vast amounts of water and raw materials. In that context, the European Commission’s recent focus on the environmental impact of the fashion industry is an important example of the way in which regulators are now engaging directly with the climate emergency.
EU Strategy for sustainable and circular textiles
The EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles (the Strategy) was published on 30 March 2022 and establishes concrete actions to ensure that by 2030 the production of textiles within the EU market is durable, recyclable, free from hazardous substances and produced in a manner that is consistent with the EU’s wider social, human rights and environmental commitments. Put succinctly, the ambitious aim of the Strategy is to reduce waste within the fashion industry by driving fast fashion out of fashion.
The purpose of an EU Strategy paper, developed collectively by European institutions, is to set an aspirational course for all related policies, legislation and/or initiatives instigated by the European Commission. If the policies outlined in the Strategy were to be implemented, the effects on the European and International textile market would be far-reaching. For example, textile companies would be required to disclose how much unsold stock they send to landfill, reduce the number of fashion collections per year and textile companies would also have to abide by the new product rules requiring clothes to be durable.
Frans Timmermans, Vice-President at the European Commission’s Green Deal has said this would mean that clothes would have to ‘last longer than three washes’. For several generations of consumers, those of us of Baby Boomer or Generation X vintage, the idea that any clothing item would last less than three washes is counter-intuitive, however, for younger consumers shopping on online platforms targeted at fast fashion, the Strategy may force a change in shopping habits and underline the inverse relationship between the very fastest of fashion and environmental sustainability.
The reach of the Strategy extends beyond the wardrobe life of textile products, by requiring producers to consider the after life of their products through a potentially mandatory extended producer responsibility scheme. Such a scheme would make Ecodesign requirements mandatory for all textiles, in order to reduce landfill and decrease the usage of non-biodegradable components such as microplastics. Clearer product information for consumers would also be required, clarifying product content and recyclability. Importantly, the Strategy advocates for the creation of a Digital Product Passport to enable easy consumer access to product repair and/or recycling, and potentially track processing of products through the supply chain. Alongside the Strategy, the Commission has also outlined plans for Member States to enshrine favourable taxation measures for the reuse and repair sector.
This is certainly a novel and ambitious extension of the ‘polluter pays’ principle long established in European environmental law, but too often difficult to enforce through legislation and regulation. It remains to be seen whether the measures set out in the Strategy will ever make it onto the statute books across the EU. If they do, such legislation would likely impact upon the viability of fast fashion companies operating across the EU, many of which have bloomed throughout the pandemic. We may also see a new trend in related litigation, with regulators, consumers and potentially competitors policing the compliance of textile manufacturers and retailers with regulation inspired by the EU Strategy – making slow, sustainable and responsibly produced textiles the norm across the fashion world.
With special thanks to co-author Ashley Stoffel.