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EU proposes new rules to tackle 'fast fashion'

March 30, 2022

The EU Commission plans to introduce labeling on clothes that would tell consumers how easily recyclable and environmentally friendly they are.

A woman looks at clothing on a rack at a store
The EU Commission says the trend of 'fast fashion' is contributing to 'unsustainable patterns of overproduction and overconsumption'Image: Photoshot/picture alliance

The European Commission unveiled on Wednesday a proposal to boost the sustainability of consumer products such as smartphones, clothing and furniture.

The plan reflects the EU executive's efforts to advance the bloc's so-called "circular economy" and promote consumer goods that are more sustainable, longer-lasting and easier to repair and recycle

"We want sustainable products to become the norm on the European market," said EU commissioner responsible for the environment, Frans Timmermans, announcing the proposal in a press conference.

Under the plan, goods sold in the EU would be developed on a sustainability scale that demonstrates the products' environmental impact, their durability and how easy they are to be repaired.

It mirrors the bloc's current efficiency rating system for electrical appliances, which uses an A to G label to help consumers choose less energy-intensive products.

Going after 'fast fashion'

In particular, the EU executive branch has its sights on sustainability in textiles, which it sees as an industry worthy of scrutiny. The proposal would introduce labeling on clothes, telling consumers how easily recyclable and environmentally friendly they are. 

"The consumption of textiles, most of which are imported, now accounts on average for the fourth-highest negative impact on the environment and on climate change and third-highest for water and land use from a global life cycle perspective," the Commission's proposal document read.

Clothing comprises 81% of EU textile consumption. The EU Commission said trends of using garments for shorter periods before throwing them away was contributing to "unsustainable patterns of overproduction and overconsumption." 

The trend, which is known as "fast fashion" has been "enticing consumers to keep on buying clothing of inferior quality and lower price, produced rapidly in response to the latest trends," the Commission said.

"It's time to end the model of 'take, make, break, and throw away' that is so harmful to our planet, our health and our economy," Timmermans added.

Construction sector also targeted

Aside from clothing and smartphones, the Commission is also going after the construction business. It highlighted that buildings alone accounted for around 50% of resource extraction and consumption and more than 30% of the EU's total waste generated per year. 

"In addition, buildings are responsible for 40% of EU's energy consumption and 36% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions," the statement read.

"New product requirements will ensure that the design and manufacture of construction products is based on state of the art to make these more durable, repairable, recyclable, easier to re-manufacture," it added.

All 27 EU members and the European Parliament are expected to scrutinize the proposal, prior to it becoming law. The plans would likely face resistance and lobbying from industries that have been promoting products with shorter lifespans. 

jcg/nm (dpa, AFP, Reuters)

Fast fashion versus the environment