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Blog: How Can We Create A Strong Regulatory Framework For Circular Fashion?

Blog: How can we create a strong regulatory framework for circular fashion?

Brussels, 6 March 2020.

By Josefine Koehler, Policy Officer at

In the fourth of our blogs about the fashion industry, Josefine Koehler outlines how the regulatory framework needs to be adapted to create conditions for circular fashion to thrive.

Innovative policies and economic incentives are crucial to creating a circular fashion economy. But they are not enough.

In our Circular Fashion Advocacy report1, identified five pillars of strong policies that European policymakers can make to create a circular fashion industry. This blog is about the third pillar: regulations.

To foster circular fashion in Europe, a regulatory framework is needed that provides harmonised transparency, traceability, verification and market surveillance. These boundary conditions can only be established by government policies.

As part of this, there are three key elements that governments need to consider to create strong regulatory frameworks that supports circular fashion.

1 Expanding the EU Ecodesign Directive.

The European Union’s (EU) Ecodesign Directive aims to improve the environmental performance of products by phasing out poor-performing ones and enhancing ecodesign. By setting mandatory minimum requirements for 20 energy-intensive categories, including household appliances, industrial products and electrical equipment, the directive has successfully reduced the amount of energy we use.2

But resource-intensive sectors, such as textiles and fashion, so far have been ignored. Additional minimum requirements for circular design of apparel should be added to the directive. This could include design for durability, ease of maintenance, repair, sharing, reuse, upgradeability, recycling and preventing waste.

Banning the use of intentionally added microplastics and Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs) is a measure European policymakers can take to complement the Ecodesign Directive. In the fashion sector, chemicals are mainly used to provide desirable characteristics, like softness or elasticity, or to bleach or dye fibres. The list of SVHCs should be extended to include all (candidate) substances identified in EU chemicals and packaging regulations, sectorial/product legislation, as well as ‘persistent organic pollutants’.1

Regulation and control of the application of SVHCs in primary and secondary textile raw materials is crucial. It will encourage clean material cycles that guarantee EU health, safety and environmental regulations.

All SVHCs should be tracked by date and there should be better market surveillance on produced and imported fashion industry goods in EU member states. Practically, this means having unannounced audits by independent third parties to check compliance to environmental regulations and imposing high fines for non-compliance. This will enhance ecodesign and eco-innovation, strengthening the long-term strategy of businesses.

Once this adapted regulative framework leads to market traction, ecodesign will be integrated in production.

2 Revising national end-of-waste criteria.

The EU’s Waste Framework Directive (WFD) sets basic concepts and definitions for waste management. It also sets criteria that specifies when waste stops being considered as waste and re-obtains a product or ‘secondary material’ status, after going through a recovery process3.

As yet, the directive does not provide clear end-of-waste criteria for textiles. According to the Directive (EU) 2018/ 851 amending WFD Directive 2008/ 98/ EC, specific end-of-waste criteria should be considered for textiles. As long as criteria for textiles have not been set at Union level, Member States may establish detailed criteria to certain types of waste and where criteria have not been set at either Union or national level, a Member State may decide on a case-by-case basis4.

Therefore, besides extending warranty periods or mandatory waste collection management systems, the EU and member states need to set and enforce criteria for the end-of-life status of textiles. According to, defining criteria should consider the bioavailability and concentrations of substances.

A clear end-of-waste definition will encourage the reuse and recovery of secondary raw materials. Currently for apparel, less than 1% of disposed clothing made from plastic, cotton and other materials is recycled into the same, or similar, product. Another 14% are downcycled and 12% are reused5. A clear end-of-waste definition will provide legal certainty and a level playing field.

3 Banning landfilling and incinerating unsold clothes.

Massive amounts of textile waste are illegally incinerated or landfilled6. This includes pre-consumer waste, overproduced and unsold clothes, which is around 35% of total production5 and the majority of post-consumer textile waste, 73% of disposed clothing5.

A direct ban on these practices will divert a great value loss to more value retention, reinforcing ecodesign and eco-innovation.

Other ways to reduce landfilling and incineration in the industry include:

  • Introducing regulation for secondary textile materials to follow the same rules as primary ones, except under strict conditions
  • Banning the worst energy-consuming or health-threatened products from the market, so there’s less competition from cheap, low-quality products
  • Introducing labels based on the carbon footprint of a product and/or its circularity, such as recycled content and recyclability. This will support the substitution of chemicals with environmentally friendly alternatives.

Businesses will need time to adapt to these measures. Regional, national and international advocacy will create support and counter resistance to implementing them as part of a regulatory framework for circular fashion.


Read’s Circular Fashion Advocacy report to find out more about how strong circular economy policies will transform the sector.



1 (2019). Circular Fashion Advocacy – A Strategy towards a Circular Fashion Industry in Europe. Available at:

2 European Commission (n.d.). Ecodesign. Retrieved from

3 European Commission (2019). Directive2008/98/EC on waste (Waste Framework Directive). Retrieved from

4  Laws. (2019), Circular Economy and Waste in the Fashion Industry. Valentina Jacometti, Laws 2019, 8, 27; doi:10.3390/laws8040027. Retrieved from

5 Ellen MacArthur Foundation. (2019). A New Textiles Economy: Redesign Fashion’s Future. Retrieved from

6 Common Objective. (2018). Fashion and Waste: Un uneasy relationship. Retrieved from

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