EU member states have backed a ban on the destruction of unsold clothing in a bid to curb waste from the textile industry, which accounts for a fifth of the bloc’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Almost 6mn tonnes of textiles are discarded by EU citizens each year but only a quarter of those are recycled, according to European Commission estimates.
The ban would further boost Brussels’ green credentials but comes as industry leaders and politicians warn that too much environmental regulation risks stifling European economies. French president Emmanuel Macron on Thursday called for a “regulatory pause” on new environmental measures, so Europe can focus on applying existing laws.
Items that are returned by consumers to shops are complex for retailers to process and so often are discarded or destroyed. Designer brands also frequently destroy unwanted stock to prevent it appearing on the black market. British retailer Burberry revealed that it burnt £28.6mn worth of unsold merchandise in 2018, a practice it later stopped after a backlash.
Brussels presented a plan in March last year to encourage recycling and reuse of products across the bloc. It noted “the destruction of unsold consumer products, such as textiles and footwear” has become “a widespread environmental problem” owing to rapid growth in online sales.
However, the commission did not specifically ban the destruction of unsold clothing, instead requiring all large companies to report on quantities of discarded stock.
EU member states on Friday supported a tougher approach, backing a specific ban on the destruction of “apparel or clothing accessories”, according to a draft of the proposal seen by the Financial Times.
This came despite efforts earlier this week by countries such as Sweden, which is home to the retail giant H&M, to remove the ban from the text.
France, Germany and the Netherlands were among the member states who pushed to include the proposal in the new, so-called “ecodesign requirements” set by the EU.
“It’s very much in line with what we have as a goal as the EU in terms of environmental and recycling goals,” said one EU diplomat backing the proposal. “I don’t think it will be an extra burden [for businesses].”
Another diplomat said there was a risk that recycling or processing clothing to prevent it being destroyed could push up prices for consumers.
According to the draft, small businesses would be exempted from the ban and medium sized businesses, those with up to 249 employees and with annual turnover lower than €50mn, would be given longer to adjust. Details are still under discussion.
The proposal will need to be signed off by EU ministers and agreed with the European parliament before it can become law. Member states are expected to vote on the text on May 22.
Some member states also wanted the requirements to apply to electronic devices and shoes, which are classified differently to clothing, according to two people close to the discussions. Germany secured an exemption for cars, which are already subject to several pieces of EU legislation regarding recycling.
The “ecodesign” proposals also include a “product passport” to provide information on how products have been made and requirements on online marketplaces to ensure they offer compliant products.
Several member states, including France, have already enacted laws banning destruction of consumer goods, and the original commission proposal states that the measures will also prevent single market distortions, as well as reducing the environmental impact of the textile sector.