Why are polluting petroleum-based fabrics still freely sold in the EU?

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Europe is finally acting on unsustainable fashion, but is it really significant?

Not according to a coalition of NGOs and natural fiber groups, who are calling on the EU to abandon petroleum-based synthetic fabrics from its sustainable clothing proposal.

Under the EU’s Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) program – which is about to come into effect seven years after its conception – companies will be required to label their clothing with emissions that have been necessary for their manufacture.

But the PEF methodology has a number of flaws, say fair fashion advocates, who started the Make the Label Count campaign in Brussels today, October 13.

Importantly, taking into account the impact of forming natural fibers but not synthetic fibers made from crude oil, it pushes consumers towards outfits contaminated with fossil fuels.

“For years we have been calling for better labeling of fashion items. Our industry has an unacceptable impact on our planet and consumers do not want to be complicit, ”said Livia Firth, co-spokesperson for Make The Label Count and creative director of the agency Eco-Age.

“We are ready to help develop a clear and credible label that reflects the latest scientific advances to empower millions of European consumers, and beyond. “

Why was the PEF program called greenwashing?

As a member of European Green Agreement, the continent is moving towards a climate neutral and circular economy.

Textiles have rightly been recognized as a sector ripe for change, where products can be made more energy efficient, sustainable, reusable, repairable and recyclable.

Measuring and labeling the environmental impact of clothing is an essential step. But it’s important that the labels tell the whole story, and the program isn’t just about buzzwords like “green” and “sustainability” that leave consumers in the dark. And allow retailers to continue producing and polluting as usual.

In its current form, the PEF methodology has 16 environmental impact categories, ranging from freshwater ecotoxicity to ozone depletion.

But there are a few hard-hitting ideas missing. The European Commission launched the PEF in 2013, and since then there have been major advances in research into the environmental impacts of the textile industry, says Dalena White, Make The Label Count co-spokesperson and secretary General of the International Wool Textile Organization (IWTO).

“If the Commission continues to use the PEF without updating it, the fashion and textile industry will not make the green transition that the EU wants to see.

Only an updated set of criteria will “achieve a clothing sustainability label that gives consumers credible information that justifies green claims and prevents greenwashing,” she adds.

What does Make the Label Count call?

Groups such as The Campaign for Wool, IWTO and Plastic Soup Foundation are calling for EU clothing sustainability labels to be strengthened before they are introduced.

This means including information about an item’s renewability, biodegradability, recyclability, and its use of fossil fuels and materials that remove microplastics – all of which are currently lacking.

Washing synthetic clothing accounts for 35% of primary microplastics released into the environment, according to Make the Label Count. And with 60 percent synthetic textile fibers, there is every reason to promote natural fibers.

To this end, the advantages of natural fibers (such as wool and flax) need to be better reflected – the PEF correctly taking into account their good biodegradability, for example.

The socio-economic impact of fiber production must also be taken into account: growing natural fibers provides income to rural, isolated and poor communities around the world.

“When people make informed choices, they make better choices, which in turn will encourage brands to make products with the lowest possible environmental impact,” says Firth.


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