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23rd May 2022

EU pushes to end throw-away culture and fast fashion

  • The EU produces about four million tonnes of electronic waste, but less than 40 percent is recycled (Photo: Bert van Dijk)
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New EU eco-design rules should help end a European business model of "throw away" tech and fashion, the EU Commission has 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," Frans Timmermans, an EU commissioner tasked with creating a more green economy, told a news conference in Brussels on Wednesday (30 March). .

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He spoke as the European Commission unveiled a new plan to make products in the EU market more durable, reusable and repairable — as part of efforts to improve the contribution of the circular economy to climate policies and waste reduction.

This includes banning greenwashing practices that mislead consumers about the durability or environmental footprint of products.

The EU expanded eco-design rules, which currently apply only to energy-related products, to other categories — will in future potentially include electronics, textiles, furniture, mattresses, and tyres.

The EU produces about four million tons of electronic waste, but less than 40 percent is recycled.

This will oblige traders of regulated products to meet information and labelling requirements, for example, on the level of reparability of products.

Manufacturers would also have to create a 'digital product passport' with complementary information for repairers or recyclers such as details of recycled content of a material or supply chain issues.

And consumers will have the right to be informed about how long products last and how they can be repaired. This information could be included in the label or the company's website.

"If products break we should be able to fix them. A smartphone should not lose its functionality just because the battery [performance] declines," Timmermans said.

New rules also aim to stop the destruction of unsold products — with the EU mulling a ban on such practices. As a first step, large companies will have to publicly disclose information about the unsold consumer goods they discard per year.

The fashion industry has received special attention in the circular economy commission's proposal since today fewer than one percent of clothes and footwear are recycled.

Fast fashion is cheap but shopping habits are changing — given the environmental impact of EU textile consumption, links to cheap labour and proof of low standards for chemical use.

EU environment commissioner, Virginijus Sinkevičius, specifically called for an end to fast fashion by 2030, arguing that people are tired of fabrics that tear after a few washes.

"By 2030 textiles placed on the EU market should be long-lived and recyclable, made to a large extent of recycled fibres," he said, speaking alongside Timmermans Wednesday.

The EU wants to introduce mandatory requirements to increase textile performance and recyclability, as well as adding design requirements to reduce microplastic pollution from textiles made of synthetic fibres.

Fears have emerged that increasing the sustainability of products would make goods more expensive, increasing the burden on vulnerable families and businesses at a time of already sky-high inflation.

But Sinkevičius said "it is not entirely true that the products are going to become more expensive" due to the new EU eco-design rules.

Existing sustainability requirements have already saved billions of euros for Europeans, he said. Eco-design standards for energy-related products saved consumers €120bn in 2021 alone, ]according to commission estimates.

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