Campaigners say EU eco-labels are not enough strict for fabrics

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Campaign Make the Label Count: The system due to enter force in 2023 will be misleading and out of date

Campaigners claim that the EU’s new eco-labels are not sufficiently strict. All shoes and clothes sold in the EU from 2023 will have colour-coded labels that inform customers about their environmental impact. The “Make the Label Count” campaign, which was launched this week, claims that the 2013 system of measuring is inaccurate, out-of-date, and does not align with EU’s climate goals.

The campaigners and trade associations claim that polyester, which is derived from fossil fuels, will be certified as being more eco-friendly than natural fibres.

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Dalena White (secretary general of the International Wool Textile Organisation) stated that all natural fibres would score red under the current system. “This is because microplastic polluting, biodegradability, renewability, and microplastic pollution are not included in the assessment criteria. These are the areas where natural fibers shine.”

The product environmental footprint (PEF), a standardised EU system, aims to quantify the environmental impact of commercial goods. It was created to give transparent and reliable information to consumers, while making it easier for manufacturers across the EU to certify their products.

PEF was tested on 25 products, including beer, stationery and T-shirts. A campaign report argues that the system is not suitable for fashion and does not reflect EU ambitions.

A spokesperson for the European Commission stated that there was still work to be done before the categories under which PEF is evaluated could be finalised.

“The commission is completely behind the idea to make the label count,” stated Paola Migliorini (a representative of the commission) during a panel discussion at launch. She stressed that the European strategy to the textile industry was still in development and would prioritize science-based assessments of textile lifecycles.

White stated that the methodology used by the commission was flawed. “The time at which oil is extracted at the wellhead is the measurement of the life cycle for textiles made from petroleum fibers. She said that the oil is not measured for the water, land, or years it took to make the oil. The lifecycle of wool starts from the moment it begins growing on sheep’s backs. This takes between eight and 12 months. It also measures the amount of land and water required for wool to grow.”

White stated that the method didn’t account for what happens to fibres once they go into landfill. She is optimistic that PEF can be modified. She stated that “we all need some kind of measurement. The best solution is to add the missing points to the PEF after all the hard work has been done. We are running out time.”

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