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BRUSSELS – A lack of coherent regulation in the EU means potentially hazardous chemicals continue to be used in all stages of the production process in the textiles industry, a new Norwegian study has said. It is claimed current EU policies for textile production often allow member states to shape the laws and their implementation themselves, leading to more use of chemicals and less sustainable waste management.

The research was carried out by Sustainable Market Actors for Responsible Trade (SMART), funded by EU research and innovation programme Horizon 2020. The project focuses on the environmental and social footprint of global supply chains for clothes and mobile phones and comprises researchers from 25 institutions from around the world.

“The EU today has a wide range of sustainability-oriented policies and regulations, but there is a lack of coherence and sufficiently stringent and enforceable regulation,” said Beate Sjåfjell, a law professor at Norway’s University of Oslo, and the leader of the SMART project.

She added: “Reforms adopted by the EU to promote sustainability often give a broad scope to the member states on how to implement these. Unfortunately, member states tend to aim for minimum implementation, out of fears of jeopardising their own competitive position or that of their businesses.”

The lack of coherent regulation means that potentially hazardous chemicals are continuously being used in all stages of the production process in the textiles industry, claimed Tineke Lambooy, a professor at the Nyenrode Business University in the Netherlands.  

Lambooy said: “The traditional production process for many kinds of fashion articles starts in the cotton field. There, a lot of pesticides and fertilisers are used in the mainstream processes. Growing cotton requires a lot of pesticides, dying yarn requires chemicals, and chemicals are also involved in the end-phase of the product life cycle, when the product becomes waste or is recycled.

“The use of toxic chemicals can have detrimental effects for people living nearby because it could get into their drinking water, and it certainly destroys ecosystems.

“Sometimes the cotton is grown in one country, then the produced textile is sent to a factory in another country, and then the finished product is sent to yet another country to be sold. This means that the production process also involves pollution caused by sea, road and air transport.”

The researchers also claimed that hazardous materials in textiles end up being spread across the world, often in countries where waste management is lacking.  

Maja van der Velden, associate professor at the University of Oslo said: “The lack of sustainable recycling practices leads to the pollution of land, water and air.”

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