EU proposal must hold fashion brands accountable for global textile waste, advocates say


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Designers, advocates and local officials from Ghana are calling on European policymakers to propose an extended producer responsibility (EPR) framework that delivers accountability for textile waste globally and not just in their own countries.

“Your streets here are clean because ours are littered with waste,” Nutifafa Mensah, owner of Accra-based secondhand shop Upcycled Thrift Ghana, said in a statement released last week by The Or Foundation, a non-profit that researches the secondhand market in Ghana and works with communities to identify and scale solutions for the challenges it creates. A delegation organised by the non-profit has spent the last two weeks meeting with policymakers, industry executives and others in Brussels, Paris and Helsinki to talk about the impacts of fashion’s waste problem on communities in the Global South, such as the Kantamanto market in Accra, and to demand that those communities are included in developing — and benefiting from — the solutions intended to solve it.

Pat Boatemaa, a retailer at the Kantamanto market in Accra, at the European Environmental Bureau in Brussels talking with MEP Alice Kuhnke about how Kantamanto retailers sort clothes.

Photo: Courtesy of The Or Foundation

The EU is expected to release “harmonised” EPR rules for textiles this summer, as well as economic incentives for making products more sustainable. Along with other measures, including tighter controls on greenwashing, Digital Product Passports and efforts to reduce microplastic pollution, the EPR framework is a key component of the larger EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles announced in March 2022. It’s also where many say global legislation, in general, is headed: France enacted EPR legislation for clothing last year, California legislators introduced a bill in February that would do the same for companies manufacturing or selling into the state, and the concept is taking hold in a number of industries outside of fashion. Advocates have applauded the EU’s move, saying it introduces some accountability to an industry that has lacked it almost entirely, and EPR has long been regarded as a necessary tool for managing waste in any industry that produces excessive amounts of it, whether it’s food and beverage, electronics or, increasingly, fashion.

However, a proposal that does not explicitly address the needs of communities like those represented by The Or Foundation, experts worry, risks perpetuating and accelerating the unmanageable flow of garment waste from primarily wealthy consumer markets to the Global South. That’s untenable for people and the planet, considering clothes are already clogging coastlines in West Africa and accumulating so heavily in the Chilean desert that they can be seen from space.

“The conversation should include everyone, all countries. Everywhere that clothes go to, the [EPR] policies should include them,” says Patrick Abesiyine Anyebuno, secondhand solidarity fund coordinator for The Or Foundation and part of the “Kantamanto Delegation”, which included 16 Ghanaian citizens, three Americans and one French citizen. 

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EU proposal must hold fashion brands accountable for global textile waste, advocates say

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