After lengthy discussions, the European Parliament and Council have agreed to adopt a draft Commission Regulation "aimed at enhancing the environmental sustainability of products and ensuring their free movement within the internal market by establishing ecodesign requirements that products must meet in order to be placed on the market or put into service".
The text relates in particular to the textile industry and aims in particular to prohibit the destruction of unsold new clothing. More generally, it aims to limit the environmental impact of the production of products. Henceforth, goods should be more reliable, reusable, repairable and more easily recyclable.
Saving the planet is a justifiable goal: 5.8 million tons of textiles are thrown away each year in the European Union, that is 11 kilograms per person. It takes 20,000 liters of water to produce a kilogram of cotton, while it takes 820 liters to produce a kilogram of potatoes, and hundreds of millions of people around the world suffer from thirst and hunger.
That mountains of clothes rot on African beaches, end up in garbage bins or even incinerated by some brands instead of being recycled or donated to charity is unacceptable.
But if Brussels' intentions are laudable, the methods are highly questionable and the draft regulation is a veritable bureaucratic monstrosity. Companies will have to meet a range of requirements, including a long list covering:
- Product durability and reliability;
- Ability to reuse products;
- Ability to upgrade, repair, maintain and refurbish;
- Presence of substances of concern in products;
- Energy and resource efficiency of products;
- The content of recycled materials in the products;
- Re-manufacturing and recycling of products;
- Product carbon footprint and environmental footprint;
- Expected waste generation of products.
In addition, the information requirements will have to take the form of a "product passport" and labeling system that will multiply the already restrictive requirements adopted in France.
By whom and with what funds will the inspections be carried out? Will we employ a new cohort of civil servants? How will they be able to verify the traceability of products from cotton fields in China and garment factories in Dhaka to ready-to-wear boutiques in Paris?
Middle-class European consumers don't care about the provenance or the environmental and social conditions in which clothes are made. This is unfortunate, but understandable. What matters to them is first and foremost the price of the clothes, then their quality (comfort, materials and fittings, stitching) and to a lesser extent the look/style.
This makes the project even more pointless. It may further burden the sector's industrial and distribution companies with regulatory obligations that are already crowded to the brim.
Any measures to educate and enlighten consumers to become more environmentally responsible are welcome. But the EU produces too much and imports too much. It is this imbalance between supply and demand that is causing all the environmental and economic woes that the draft European regulation condemns. Adding a new layer of administrative restrictions to a sector that is already in structural crisis is not very sensible.
The classic sectoral business model is absurd in itself. It is no different from the industrial fishing model of scraping the ocean floor with trawls and throwing all the unclaimed and unsold products back into the sea. This is a real disaster for the conservation of fish stocks and marine biodiversity.
The textile and clothing industry produces and sells far more than the market can absorb. As a result, only a quarter of the clothes are sold during the season, half are sold at throwaway prices, on sales and various promotions, and the remaining quarter end up in landfills.
Instead of an inefficient project, one could simply abolish the super preferential customs regimes generously granted by the European Union to these Asian countries, which are veritable industrial slums, do not respect human rights and even, like Myanmar, engage in heinous genocide.
Not only would it cost nothing, but it would even help replenish European coffers through customs revenues, and most importantly, it would encourage importers to turn to local suppliers in Europe and the Mediterranean to implement short-circuit strategies that are more in line with market needs than those practiced in Asia and therefore much more environmentally responsible.
The second measure is to support industrial and commercial investment in technological solutions to adapt and adjust the supply of goods and services to demand. This means adapting supply to the needs and expectations of consumers. The direct consequence of this is to reduce supply, avoid overstocking and unsold goods, and minimize waste. There are technological solutions, such as those from Lectra, as well as ways to differentiate the style offer, such as those developed by Nelly Rodi.
This will revitalize and revitalize the European textile and clothing industry, strengthen economic cooperation with Mediterranean partners in a mutually beneficial partnership and encourage young people from Maghreb countries to stay and work in their countries.