19 April 2021

Ecodesign requirements for textiles are a crucial step towards stopping fast fashion

Mandatory ecodesign requirements for textiles and textile products are an essential tool to reduce the environmental impacts of the textiles sector and make the industry circular. Before they are put on the market, clothes should comply with concrete requirements for minimum lifetimes, as well as durability, reusability, repairability and recyclability. In addition, requirements should prevent the presence of hazardous and toxic chemicals, and limit microplastics release at all stages.

Today’s fashion is faster and faster – and keeps on accelerating at breakneck speed. Between 2000 and 2015, in only 15 years, the amount of clothes produced in the world doubled, with EU households spending €527.9 billion on clothes and textile products every year.

 

Unless we slow down, our planet will become the ultimate fashion victim. But what if our clothes lasted longer, and were easier to reuse and mend, without harmful materials? The environmental impacts of the textile sector would be dramatically cut. Studies show that if we used our clothes for an average extra 9 months, the overall footprints would be reduced by 20 to 30%. 

This is entirely possible, and could be done building on the lessons learnt from the implementation of the ecodesign approach in other sectors. Thanks to the existing ecodesign regulations, a number of appliances, such as TVs or washing machines, now comply with minimum requirements. These rules are estimated to bring energy savings of approximately 230 Mtoe (million tonnes of oil equivalent) by 2030 – a true success story for the EU, and one that could be transposed to other priority sectors, including textiles.

Given that 80% of product environmental impacts are determined at the design stage, mandatory minimum ecodesign requirements for textiles, supported by robust technical standards, would be an essential step to begin the transformation of the textile sector towards circularity.

To be effective, the EU should only allow on the market products that meet certain criteria, focusing on improving material efficiency (durability, reusability, repairability, recyclability), preventing the presence of hazardous chemicals, and limiting microplastics releases.

In our new report, we urge the European Commission to apply the principles of ecodesign to textile products, following the model of electricals and electronics, regulated through the existing Ecodesign Directive, by expanding its scope as part of the planned Sustainable Products Policy Initiative. Legislation can and should stimulate sustainable design for durability, reusability, repairability and recyclability in textiles too.

Current environmental tools for textiles won’t cut it

This is not the first attempt at making the textiles industry more sustainable. Entities in different countries have issued ‘green labels’ and other schemes for certification of sustainable textiles. However, after examining them closely, we have concluded that they are far from able to transform the current linear fast fashion model into a circular one.

Our analysis of current certification schemes and reports shows that their requirements overlook reuse and repair aspects. They are ineffective mainly because they:

  • lack requirements for minimum desired lifespan of products
  • lack definitions of what ‘high-quality fabrics’ are
  • contain only a limited reference to recycled content or natural fibre content of fabrics
  • marginally address chemical additives and material composition
  • include no methods to address the problem of microplastics shedding of synthetic fibres

Just do it – ECOS recommendations for applying ecodesign to textile products

Mandatory ecodesign requirements for textiles and textile products are needed to address minimum lifetime and durability, reusability, repairability, recyclability, prevent the presence of hazardous chemicals and limit microplastics release at all stages. They should also help improve the information communicated across the value chain. We need ambitious legislative tools, based on comprehensive and clear methodologies to ensure measurability, enforceability and comparability among products and services. Tools must also address trade-offs between different sustainability parameters.

When setting minimum requirements for textiles, ECOS recommends following the principles:

ECOS is co-funded by the European Commission and EFTA

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