The EU is consuming as if we had three planets. And after food, housing and transport, textile products are the fourth largest source of environmental pressure. 675 million tonnes of materials are used every year to produce clothing, footwear and household textiles for the EU market. Globally, 73% of all textiles end up in landfill or incineration. And it is the clothes we wear which make up 81% of the EU’s textile consumption.   

To date, the textile sector has been largely untouched by EU sustainability initiatives. But regulation is on the way. Exactly one year ago the European Commission published its long-awaited Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles, a draft EU policy plan which sets out a vision for all textiles to be produced in respect of social rights and the environment and for them to be durable, recyclable, free of hazardous substances, and made from more recycled fibres.

Whether the initiatives set out in the Textile Strategy will meaningfully contribute to bringing about accountability in this sector remains to be seen. The document lacks meaningful initiatives to ensure fair wages for the people who make our clothes in Europe and globally, and offers no action to rein in the brands and retailers who use their power over suppliers to change orders, withhold payments, and impose low prices. 

But as MEPs in the European Parliament prepare to have their say and vote on the future of fashion and textiles this April, we take a look at seven ways they can ensure the Textile Strategy’s key initiatives have real impact.  

1) No market for the worst textile products 

As part of plans for a new EU law to make sustainable products the norm – the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR), new minimum requirements on how textile products are designed will be set. These could cover aspects such as information provision, durability, repairability, fibre-to-fibre recyclability, and increasing the use of recycled fibres. This is a real opportunity to build on the best requirements already established through voluntary schemes, for example, by looking at the EU’s best-in-class Ecolabel. The requirements could also be a game-changer if they are set ‘horizontally’, covering aspects such as finishing processes and material mixes, rather than setting requirements for different types of garments in turn (e.g. dresses, t-shirts, jeans).

What should MEPs do?

Vote to ensure the Ecodesign requirements will also cover chemical safety. Hazardous chemicals are used at many stages of textile manufacturing, with a huge environmental and climate impact. And not only do dyes and finishes hamper recycling, they are also dangerous for workers and consumers. Inaction on hazardous chemicals would be a real missed opportunity. 

2) We need to talk about…production volumes 

There is a risk that the Strategy will miss the mark if policy solutions do not address the sheer amount of products put on the market every year. With the number of garments sold doubling in two decades, we need to set solutions to overproduction that don’t just involve producing more stuff. What is the point of having durable products made from recycled fibres if these are only destined to live a long life in landfill? Not to mention that recycled content in textile products is a “very complicated and immature field” according to the European Commission’s own Joint Research Centre.

Demand for new products (and discard of old ones) is largely driven by the availability of new clothing through social media marketing and price. And while the Textile Strategy recognises overproduction is the problem and even calls for businesses to “reduce the number of collections per year”, the measures it puts forward might not be enough to achieve absolute resource-use reduction. Product requirements alone will not be enough to reduce the amount of clothes being produced, We also need other measures to tackle our growth-focused economic system and move towards a wellbeing economy.

What should MEPs do?

Vote for sufficiency measures such as setting resource-use reduction targets for material use (in the same vein as climate targets).  

3) Banning the destruction of unsold goods 

Levels of unsold textile products have skyrocketed as a result of both the boom in returned goods sold through e-commerce platforms and purchasing practices built on bulk ordering. Available data shows that 677 tonnes of unsold stock is destroyed in Denmark each year, and in Norway an investigation has estimated that 825 metric tons of clothing went unsold in 2021. In response, the European Commission has put forward a ban on the practice of destroying unsold and returned stock as part of the new Ecodesign package.

There is still a lack of visibility on the scale of overproduction in the fashion industry and few brands publish how many items of clothing they actually produce or how much surplus stock they have. The Fashion Transparency Index found that most major brands (85%) do not disclose information on their annual production volumes. It’s time for policies that make disclosure of this information mandatory.

What should MEPs do?

Vote to make sure the ban is put in place as fast as possible, make sure it does not contain endless loopholes, and ensure that fines for non-compliance will be meaningful (in France, the fine is EUR 15.000 regardless of the amount of stock destroyed).  

4) Making producers responsible for wasteful products

But while we might lack transparency from brands about how much they produce and sell, we know where it ends up. Countries like Kenya and Ghana bear the brunt of cleaning up fashion’s overproduction as textiles which are largely unusable and made of cheap synthetic fibres are being shipped from Europe to countries in Africa and Asia in huge quantities for disposal. Using the global trade in secondhand clothing as a de facto waste management strategy is known as ‘waste colonialism‘.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a policy measure which typically provides the funding and organisational framework for the separate collection and sorting of discarded and donated textiles. And the European Commission has committed to drafting guidelines for Member States who are working on setting up national schemes. But can these schemes go further than the ‘typical’ waste management activities? Could fees raised through EPR be earmarked to support communities in the Global South who deal with Europe’s export of second-hand clothing?

What should MEPs do?

Call on the European Commission to oversee a broader revision of the Waste Framework Directive – the legislation which sets the scope of EPR schemes – to ensure that fees provide meaningful incentives to produce less, support affected communities, detox manufacturing, and disclose information about the supply chain and production volumes. EPR schemes must be more than just ‘paying to pollute!’  

5) More transparency and traceability

The textile industry is notoriously opaque, and we need supply chain mapping and disclosure to be made mandatory through legislation (rather than through voluntary initiatives). The Commission has put forward the idea of a ‘digital product passport’ that could help ensure information stays with the product, primarily with the idea of helping recyclers and end of life management.

But there is also real potential for this tool to be used for so much more. It could be a game changer when it comes to disclosing information about substances of concern, supplier relationships and the facilities involved in a product’s different manufacturing stages, meaning more oversight of the environmental and social impact of a product.

What should MEPs do?

Vote to make the digital product passport tool as ambitious as possible so that it will be used to convey information about social sustainability across the supply chain.

6) Non-compliant products slipping through the net online 

Overconsumption is no longer driven by the high street. It’s large e-commerce platforms who are behind so-called ‘ultra’ fast fashion. Yet, it will be difficult to enforce the requirements in cases where traders do not have an importer based within the EU.

It is vital that EU plans to tighten up product sustainability don’t let the companies selling cheap and disposable clothing online dodge the new rules. Otherwise even more non-compliant products could slip through the net. Last year an investigation from Greenpeace found that 15% of products sold on SHEIN exceed EU chemical limits.

What should MEPs do?

Vote to close the loophole so that everyone selling products on the EU market is subject to the new ‘Ecodesign’ requirements, transparency obligations, and bans on product destruction. After all, what is the point of setting requirements if the biggest players are not subject to them?  

7) Cracking down on baseless green claims  

With 42% of all claims made on products found to be misleading, the last few years have seen a flurry of activity from consumer authorities when it comes to cracking down on fashion’s greenwashing. And on 22 March a much-anticipated Commission proposal for new EU rules to prevent misleading green claims was finally published.

The draft law states that companies would be legally obliged to provide supporting evidence for any green claims they make. And while the good news is the Commission has recognised some of the shortcomings with its ‘Product Environmental Footprint’ method (particularly on microplastic pollution), there will be no single method for substantiating products’ supposed green attributes which could lead to companies cherry-picking from an array of methodologies.

What should MEPs do? 

Vote for strong EU rules instead of leaving companies the flexibility to use alternative methods which may not overcome the shortcomings of the Product Environmental Footprint methodology. Underlying methods used to substantiate green claims should be holistic, cover both environmental and social impacts, and civil society and MEPs must be involved in the governance of these processes.  


Emily Macintosh | Senior Policy Officer for Textiles at the European Environmental Bureau |