European frontrunners call for a more sustainable textile industry

At the Netherlands’ initiative, 11 European countries are calling for ambitious plans at EU level to make the textile industry more sustainable. Their position is set out in a joint paper sent to the European Commission.

Besides the Netherlands, the signatories of the joint paper are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain and Sweden. The countries hope to instil more ambitious goals into the sustainable textiles strategy that the Commission is due to present at the end of this year.

‘Reducing carbon emissions is one of the pillars of the Paris Agreement. We believe the textile industry can play a key part in this,’ says Steven van Weyenberg, Dutch Minister for the Environment. ‘I think it’s important that the EU draft an ambitious strategy, making sustainable textiles the norm and opening the way to a cleaner and healthy future. That’s why we’ve submitted a proposal for concrete measures, together with ten other countries.’

In June 2021 the Netherlands invited the other countries for an exchange of views on making the textile sector more sustainable. That meeting resulted in the joint letter to Commissioners Breton , Sinkevičius and Timmermans, in which the 11 member states call for clear, ambitious targets for textile collection, reuse and recycling.

The 11 countries identify three key issues that a European textiles strategy should address in order to make the textiles industry more sustainable.

Mandatory minimum recyclable content

First, the product requirements should be improved and include a mandatory percentage of recyclable content for every garment. This will make recycling easier. The countries also urge that the use of substances of very high concern (SVHC), such as PFAS in waterproof clothes, be phased out.

Stop destroying unsold garments

The member states also want to investigate other ways of making the sector more circular. The paper proposes conducting research into ways of encouraging garments to be used for longer, as most clothing is worn for a relatively short time, either due to changing fashions or poor quality. Possible measures against this include taking steps to discourage the destruction of unsold garments, which some shops end up doing.

Preventing greenwashing

Finally, the 11 countries call for more transparency and better consumer information, notably to prevent greenwashing. They propose a mandatory label that not only shows buyers the materials the garment is made from, but also the labour conditions at the manufacturing stage.