Nowadays, the textile and fashion industry is a resource-intensive, polluting industry with considerable impact on the environment and health throughout the textile value chain. The fashion industry accounts for up to ten per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and almost 92 million tonnes of waste a year is generated in clothing production. From a global perspective, textiles and textile waste are the fourth largest cause of the negative impact on the environment and the climate. In this article, Lindahl’s environmental law experts review EU legislation in the area of textiles and describe how Sweden plans to implement legislative changes in order to meet the requirements of EU law
The greatest negative impact on the environment and the climate occurs at all stages of production because production requires raw materials, water, energy and chemicals and causes emissions to air, soil and water. Despite greater awareness of the environmental impact of the textile and fashion industry, the industry continues to grow. This is partly due to the growth of “fast fashion”, which is based on cheap manufacturing, repeat consumption and short-lived use of garments. Since garments are usually ordered online and imported from a third country directly by the consumer, it is a relatively simple matter for companies to conceal any failure to comply with EU rules on aspects such as the use of chemicals.
According to the European Environment Agency, more than five million tonnes of textile waste are generated in Europe every year. Around a fifth of the material is collected for some form of reuse, recycling for upholstery, insulation or for export to other countries. The rest ends up in household waste, which means that it either ends up in landfill or is incinerated.
EU MEASURES FOR SUSTAINABLE TEXTILES AND REDUCED QUANTITIES OF TEXTILE WASTE
The impact of textiles and textile waste on the environment is a highly prioritised issue within the EU and a series of proposals and action plans have been put forward in recent years. The EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles aims to ensure that by 2030, textile products placed on the EU market will be long-lived, recyclable and manufactured as far as possible from recycled fibres, free from hazardous substances and in line with the EU’s climate-neutrality goals for 2050. The European Commission has proposed a series of packages of measures to accelerate the transition to a circular economy within the framework of the Green Deal.
The proposals focus on prevention and management of waste and aim to promote growth, competitiveness and the EU’s global leadership in this area. As part of the circular economy action plan, the Commission presented a new strategy for making textiles more sustainable, repairable, reusable and recyclable.
THE ECODESIGN REGULATION
One important step in the legislation for sustainable textiles is the future new Ecodesign Regulation, which is still at the proposal stage. The proposal has recently been considered by the Council, which adopted its position on the design of the new Regulation in May 2023. The next step in the process consists of negotiations between the Council and the European Parliament. When adopted, the Regulation will replace the existing Ecodesign Directive from 2009. The area of applicability for ecodesign will then be extended in order to establish environmental sustainability requirements for almost all types of goods placed on the EU market.
Other new features proposed include:
- Establishment of a digital product passport.
- Rules on transparency for consumers.
- A prohibition on destruction of unsold consumer goods.
THE WASTE FRAMEWORK DIRECTIVE
In July 2018, the EU decided on extensive amendments to the 2008 Waste Framework Directive (“The Waste Framework Directive”). These included the introduction of requirements for Member States to introduce separate collection of textiles by 1 January 2025. The amendments also included requirements for Member States to implement measures to prevent generation of waste by encouraging reuse of products and establishing systems to promote repair and reuse.
In February 2021, Parliament voted on the new circular economy action plan and called for further action to achieve a carbon-neutral, environmentally sustainable, non-toxic and fully circular economy by 2050. The action called for included stricter rules on recycling and binding targets for use and consumption of materials by 2030.
INTRODUCTION OF COLLECTION REQUIREMENTS IN SWEDEN
In May 2023, the Government put forward proposals for the implementation of the EU’s requirements on collection of textiles. The proposed amendments will also implement the requirement for introduction of measures to prevent generation of textile waste. It is proposed that the statutory amendments enter into force on 1 January 2025. The full memorandum is available to read here (Swedish).
The proposals in the memorandum mainly involve the introduction of:
- Clarification of responsibility for collection and treatment of textile waste.
- An explanation of the term “textile waste”.
- Requirements for sorting of textile waste.
- Requirements for separate collection.
- Requirements for municipalities to provide information to promote reuse.
Responsibility for textile waste classified as municipal waste
Municipalities are currently responsible for ensuring that municipal waste is collected and treated. Municipal waste means waste from households and waste from other sources which is similar in nature and composition to waste from households. Textiles from households, for example, are classified as municipal waste. For textile waste not classified as municipal waste, the original waste producer is responsible for ensuring that the waste undergoes full treatment in accordance with the waste hierarchy and is also responsible for the costs of managing the waste produced.
The Waste Framework Directive does not contain any provision on which operator is to be responsible for separate collection of textile waste. The memorandum proposes that the municipalities should also continue to be responsible for collection of textile waste classified as municipal waste in future.
Meaning of the term “textile waste”
The Waste Framework Directive does not contain any definition of textile waste. Nor is there any definition of textile in any other waste-related EU legislation. That implies that Member States are free to decide which textile waste is to be collected, provided that the requirement is implemented in a way that is compatible with the aim of the Directive. In order to clarify which waste is included in the municipalities’ responsibility, the Government proposes that textile waste be defined as “waste consisting of textile clothing, domestic textiles, interior design textiles, textile bags and textile accessories.”
Requirements for sorting textile waste
There is currently no requirement for sorting or separate collection of textile waste in Sweden. Sorting is a prerequisite for separate collection. In order to meet the requirements of the Directive, the Government proposes that provisions be introduced whereby the holder of textile waste must sort it from other waste and store it separately from other waste.
Requirements for separate collection of textile waste
Under the Waste Framework Directive, Member States must introduce separate collection of textiles. The requirement for collection of textile waste is linked to the requirement for separate sorting of textile waste. In order to impose a requirement for sorting of textile waste from other waste, it is reasonable for there also to be a collection system in which the waste can be disposed of separately. Swedish waste legislation contains no requirement for separate collection of textile waste at present. Such a requirement must therefore be introduced in order to meet the requirements of the Directive.
The Government therefore proposes to introduce a requirement for separate collection of textile waste. According to the proposal, the requirement should include all those who collect textile waste. Because the requirement includes textile waste, regardless of whether on not it is classified as municipal waste, the requirement will affect both municipalities and other operators collecting textile waste.
Requirement to promote re-use
Under the Waste Framework Directive, Member States must adopt measures to prevent waste generation by encouraging reuse of products and establishment of systems to promote reuse of textiles.
More or less large-scale collection of separated textiles and textile waste by municipalities, non-profit organisations and certain store chains already exists in Sweden. Even though collection of textiles for reuse works well, there is nevertheless a risk that textiles that could be reused are instead being disposed of as waste. The risk becomes greater if it is easy to dispose of textiles as waste. The Government is therefore considering the introduction of a requirement for municipalities to provide information for households and operators on the importance of husbanding raw materials and energy by ensuring that textiles are reused whenever possible. The requirement should be formulated in such a way as to enable municipalities to decide how the information is to be provided.
Treatment of textile waste
As a basic premise, waste that has been collected separately to be prepared for re-use or recycling must not be incinerated. The requirements for sorting and separate collection of textile waste proposed in the memorandum aim to promote more circular management of textile waste through preparation for re-use or recycling. The proposals also aim to help achieve the objectives of the Waste Framework Directive on preparation for re-use and recycling of municipal waste. In view of the fact that proposals for new regulations on textile waste will be put forward within the EU, it is not considered appropriate to propose more detailed national regulations for management of textile waste in the memorandum at this stage.
The memorandum therefore proposes that textile waste that will be sorted and collected separately should be handled in accordance with current waste regulations.
THE LEGISLATIVE PROCESS – WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP?
The proposals in the memorandum are currently being referred for consultation to municipalities, operators in the textile sector and trade associations. The referral responses must have been received by the Government by the end of August.
We will continue to have reason to monitor both the EU’s and Sweden’s legislative work on circular management of textiles and textile waste.
Did the article raise any questions? You are welcome to contact any of us or your normal contact person at Lindahl.