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
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
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
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
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
Read more – Financial Times