European Parliament ‘Patches Up Loopholes’ in EU Textile EPR Proposal

It was easy to miss amid the sturm and drang over Germany’s supply chain legislation about-face this week, but the European Union is closer to agreeing on how clothing, footwear and textile producers should be held accountable for the 12.6 million metric tons of waste they generate in the bloc every year.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament’s environmental committee adopted its position on the European Commission’s proposed revision of the waste framework directive with 72 votes in favor, none against and three abstentions.

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The new rules would require member states to establish extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes 18 months after the directive comes into force—not 30 months as proposed by the European Commission—with any substantively sized brands, retailers and manufacturers that make these products available on the market responsible for covering the cost of their collection, sorting and recycling. Member countries would also need to ensure, by next January, the separate collection of textile products, from dresses to sneakers to bed linens to leather belts, for reuse, preparation for reuse and recycling.

Any fees, it agreed, should be “eco-modulated” based on the weight and quantity of the products concerned. Likewise, the management of textiles and textile products should be based on a five-step “waste hierarchy, with prevention the first recourse and disposal the last resort.

But there are also compromises, such as those that “patch up loopholes” by including non-household products such as carpets and mattresses, along with sales from e-commerce platforms, rapporteur Anna Zalewska said in a statement. The elected body has also requested an EU-wide 2032 textile waste reduction target based on an assessment that the European Commission should conduct by the end of next June. Besides levels of collection rates and progress toward phasing out landfilling, the assessment should include an analysis of the level of exports of used textiles to third countries and whether producers’ responsibility should extend to those exports.

The amendments also require member states to take the necessary measures to ensure that “sufficient” and easily accessible infrastructure is in place for the separate collection of waste, “so that items which can be recycled are extracted before being sent to the incinerator or landfill,” Zalewska said. Producers should also be the ones financing the development of reuse and repair operations, she added.

The European Parliament’s position mentions microplastics from synthetic textiles as a pain point, saying that plastic waste impairing aquatic, terrestrial and marine ecosystems can be “appropriately collected, recycled and ultimately given a new life promoting a full circular economy as well as raising public awareness for the dissemination of best practices.”

At the same time, it touts digital product passports as a tool to “significantly enhance” the traceability of textile products throughout their value chain, empowering consumers to make more informed choices regarding end-of-life management, enabling companies to accurately track the amount of textile waste generated and helping member states implement and monitor different collection obligations.

Also new to the European Parliament’s position is an acknowledgment of how textile waste that is shipped off the developing world can wind up as pollution by overwhelming their waste management systems. “Additional measures to reduce exports of secondhand textiles by maximizing local reuse should be prioritized,” it said.

Still, the lack of specific numbers leaves civil society organizations like Zero Waste Europe cold.

“We are glad to see that MEPs have heard civil society’s plea to introduce targets,” said Theresa Mörsen, waste and resources policy officer at the European network. “However, those much-needed targets have been postponed by several years, setting little incentive to ramp up capacity and implement real solutions to the waste crisis.”

The organization also questioned the “weakening” of a clause requiring the mandatory sorting of waste before incineration or landfilling. Instead, the European Parliament says member states should be encouraged, where appropriate, to introduce prior sorting of municipal mixed waste to prevent waste from being buried or sent up in smoke.

“Surprisingly, some groups are hesitant to mandate mixed waste sorting, fearing it may undermine separate collection efforts,” said Janek Vähk, zero pollution policy manager at Zero Waste Europe. “However, implementing mixed waste sorting is likely to be the most effective method for reducing the substantial amounts of waste currently sent to incinerators and landfills. Halting the practice of burning and burying waste should be a priority for the Parliament.”

Still, the money must come first, said Rachel Kibbe, CEO of the New York-based advisory firm Circular Services Group and executive director of the circular business coalition American Circular Textiles Group. Targets, she told Sourcing Journal, are “relatively meaningless” and will be “impossible to achieve” if EPR legislation doesn’t incorporate and allocate the necessary financial incentives for infrastructure, sorting, grading resale, repair and recycling.

“Collecting more, without a clear plan of action is moving chairs on the deck and hoping for the best,” Kibbe said. “Circularity regulation requires equitable and effective financing plan, first and foremost, so producers can succeed at reuse and recycling. Only then would targets be meaningful or achievable.”

EPR for textiles is a “polluter pays” concept that while gaining traction isn’t new. France has had a regulation in place since 2007 and the Netherlands since last July. California is still trashing out one of its own. But it’s important to get things right, Kibbe said, otherwise textile recycling could end up like plastic recycling: inefficient, ineffective and disbelieved by many as a working solution.

“Half measures aren’t enough,” she said. “We are actually just passing collection regulation—and should call it that. It’s not environmental or circular; it’s a cost savings for municipalities and taxpayers and a tax on producers.”

The European Parliament plans to vote on its position during the March plenary session and the measure followed up by the new Parliament after the June election.