Big changes are afoot for the apparel and shoe industry in Europe, ranging from developments in European Union regulations to new country-by-country laws coming into effect 2023.
The EU, long a leader in sustainability policy, is getting even tougher on fashion and textiles. Several pieces of legislation are in the works, new rules and guidelines are expected to start rolling out this year and the bloc of nations is aiming for a complete overhaul of the industry by 2030 under the overarching Strategy for Sustainable Textiles.
“The textile industry, in Europe at least, is moving from a fairly unregulated or self-regulated sector to a very regulated industry. That’s really a dramatic change that our companies probably do not yet understand or appreciate — but the change is happening,” said European Apparel and Textiles Association director general Dirk Vantyghem.
The strategy, released last March, tackles fast fashion, textile waste and the destruction of unsold textiles to move the industry toward more sustainable practices and transparency.
“The fashion industry from the EU’s point of view will be regulated from A to Z within a couple of years. It’s going from basically zero with no sustainability legislation to kind of covering everything from production to design to waste, etc. So it will be a whirlwind for the sector in the next two years on how to try to manage all this in an efficient way,” said Rannveig van Iterson, senior sustainability consultant at Ohana Public Affairs.
“By 2030, we will have a very, very different framework within which our companies will need to operate. And that will, of course, require a lot of changes in the way they communicate across the supply chain, the way they label their products, and more fundamentally, the way they produce things,” Vantyghem added.
Under the textile strategy, various interlocking legislation will come into force on different timelines, with legally binding requirements rolling out over the next two to three years. The bloc is working out the details on specific sustainability, circularity and eco-design regulations with some major milestones expected in 2023.
Early in the year, stricter definitions of sustainability are expected to be released with new guidelines under the Substantiating Green Claims initiative. These tackle clarifying the more than 200 certifications and labels used in the EU and requiring companies to use environmental footprint methods to back up their marketing.
In the second quarter, the Waste Framework Directive proposal is expected, which addresses “extended producer responsibility,” recycling and waste prevention. Under EPR, companies pay a fee for each garment they sell which goes toward recycling and disposal costs. By 2025, member states must set up separate waste collection for textiles.
A proposal on tackling microplastics is also anticipated in the fourth quarter of the year, and a new waste shipment regulation that aims to stop the dumping of used clothing in the global south is winding its way through the parliament and member states.
This is just the tip of the industry iceberg that aims to overhaul apparel and textiles. The Eco-design for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) was unveiled in March 2022 and is moving through legislative debates. It looks at durability, energy use, recycling, carbon and environmental footprints and a digital product passport that will deep dive into a garment’s sourcing and manufacture with strict reporting requirements.
“The ESPR is potentially the most impactful piece of legislation coming up in terms of regulatory impact on the product level because that will be setting some criteria that products simply need to meet otherwise they cannot be sold on the EU single market,” said Valerie Boiten, senior policy manager at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
The new EU rules will apply to any brand selling within the bloc — regardless of where it’s produced, a company still has to comply with the law if it is sold anywhere in the EU. There’s about 25 billion garments imported into the EU each year, from socks to frocks, and the hope is that by making those standards apply at a product’s origin, this will help the stricter environmental standards trickle down to manufacturers and suppliers worldwide. How it will be enforced, particularly on mail-order garments from popular ultra-fast-fashion websites and apps, remains to be addressed.
“Big change is coming, which makes our companies anxious. [But] we keep on saying, if that new regulatory framework is a good one, then it may actually help our industry to be more sustainable and remain competitive,” said Vantyghem, noting that if the regulations only apply in Europe and other countries don’t follow, it could put European companies at a disadvantage. “We need to be very, very careful that it does not erase the [European] industry because the level playing field is totally gone.”
However, with the legislation in the pipeline, the EU’s desire to upend the industry is clear and a lot of brands are already making changes, Boiten said. “We don’t have to wait until 2030 to see the industry changing, companies are implementing [programs]…it’s better to be ready for it than to sit and wait.”
In the Netherlands, a new extended producer responsibility law is expected to come into force July 1 for clothing and household textiles. A “polluter pays” approach, the new law makes producers and importers of products on the Dutch market responsible for the waste of the products they sell in the country through their entire life cycle, and specifically aims to make big fashion chains responsible for the costs of collecting and disposing of their garments, instead of putting the burden on cities and counties. Companies will pay a fee per product that will go toward a separate collection system and must achieve targets for the reuse, reprocessing and recycling of garments. The goal is to halve primary raw material use by 2030 and transition to a circular economy by 2050. In that year, half the clothing items on the market must consist of recycled materials and the government aims for zero textile waste. The specifics aren’t finalized, but early discussions had it set between 0.10 and 0.15 cents per garment.
While France introduced the concept of extended producer responsibility for textile products, household linens and footwear back in 2007, the country is now getting tougher. On Jan. 1, a new series of rules for environmental standards for clothing and footwear came into effect under the country’s Anti-Waste and Circular Economy law. Part of that is a new “digital passport,” which gives specific information for manufacturing and materials at every step of the supply chain, and the true recyclability for clothing and shoes. In 2023, it impacts large brands with more than 50 million euros in turnover and 25,000 products marketed in France, expanding to smaller companies in stages.
The law also clearly defines the term “recyclable,” removing any ambiguity about what can actually be done with current collecting, sorting, technology and at scale and seeks to bust the myth that what a consumer puts in a store’s bin can actually be turned into new dresses or T-shirts. A result is that word will be scarce, since most clothing cannot be recycled under the new definition.
Part of the law also tackles greenwashing, and applies to all brands regardless of size. Gone are any claims that a product is “environmentally friendly,” “biodegradable” or any other equivalent environmental claim. All of that packaging must have been removed from shelves, websites and product sheets by Jan. 1. Fines range from 15,000 euros to 10 percent of annual turnover, and can be increased to 80 percent of the advertising expenses on misleading claims, depending on the infraction.
“Carbon neutral,” “zero carbon” and other similar terms are also newly regulated, with fines of up to 100,000 euros.
In Germany, the Supply Chain Due Diligence Act came into effect on Jan. 1, with companies now responsible for their entire supply chain from sourcing components to how and where the products are manufactured. It’s a big one — the new law applies to human rights and environmental impacts, looking to target child and slave labor, as well as soil damage, water waste and pollution in manufacturing countries. Any company that does business in Germany with more than 3,000 employees is responsible for the reporting as of Jan. 1, and that threshold falls to 1,000 employees in 2024. The penalties here are steep for big brands — fines can be up to 2 percent of their annual revenue.
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