Fast fashion will be held responsible for clothing quality, toxic chemicals and waste, EU says

Nusa Urbancic is Director of Campaigns at the Changing Markets Foundation, which partners with NGOs to expose irresponsible corporate practices and drive change towards a more sustainable economy. Here she gives us her opinion on the new

Let me tell you a dirty little secret: most of the clothes you wear are basically oil and gas. Fossil fuels are at the heart of fast fashion, its business model and mountains of waste.

Fast fashion history heats up in the year 2000, when polyester supplanted cotton as the most widely used fiber. Cheap and adaptable, it is now used in two-thirds of all textiles. Between 2000 and 2014, clothing production doubled, with the average consumer now buying 60% more clothes than 15 years ago, while keeping them for half as long. Because they are so cheap and difficult to recycle, most of these clothes end up as waste, burned or buried.

But fashion brands have successfully dodged regulation for decades by relying on weak voluntary diets and other greenwashes. This is about to change.

This week, the EU became the first region in the world to recognize the link between fast fashion and fossil fuels and announce ambitious legislation to make fashion more circular.

We’ll have to wait for more details to emerge in 2023, but the centerpiece of his plans is an EU-wide extended producer responsibility scheme. It will force fashion brands, like Boohoo, H&M and Zara, to pay a waste tax for every item they sell.

The less environmentally friendly the item, the higher the costs.

If done well, it will stimulate the reuse and recycling of textiles and significantly reduce waste. Like the recent report by the Changing Markets Foundation report As shows, this fee must be accompanied by ambitious reuse and recycling targets, as well as eco-design criteria, measures that EU officials have promised to detail in 2024.

What happens to unsold items and why are they so harmful to the environment?

Authorities are also seeking to ban the destruction of unsold items and improve rules on exports of textile waste, which reached 1.4 million tonnes in 2020. Many of these used clothes are currently ending up in second-hand clothing markets. in countries like Ghana.

But from the 15 million garments shipped in Ghana every week, an estimated 40% are worthless on arrival and end up in giant burning landfills or polluting the country’s rivers and beaches.

Well-meaning Europeans donating their clothes to charity may actually be contributing to pollution problems elsewhere. I therefore welcome that officials are now beginning to develop criteria to distinguish between waste and second-hand textile products and also to increase transparency in the global trade in used textiles.

Greenwashing is still a huge problem that we need to tackle

The European Commission is also promising to crack down on greenwashing, which is rampant in the fashion industry. Our survey last year showed that 59% of their green claims are false or misleading. So we recently launched a, to follow the worst examples.

One such tactic is the growing fashion trend of turning waste plastic bottles into clothing. What they don’t tell us is that this fad is a one-way ticket to landfill and incineration.

Fortunately, EU officials have seen through this trick, calling it a growing concern, and will encourage brands to focus their creativity and investment on fiber-to-fiber recycling, rather than relying on waste from another. sector. European start-ups like Renew point the way forward.

Fast fashion brands have been selling us the illusion of sustainability for far too long and will likely fight this decision by European officials with all they have.

But European consumers want better and more sustainable clothing and European brands have the resources and means to make this a reality.

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