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Extended producer responsibility in the textile sector: the legal landscape between European principles and national regulations

The concept of EPR was first introduced in 1990 by Swedish academic Thomas Lindhqvist, during a debate on possible regulatory instruments to promote and accelerate the transition towards sustainable processes and products. The concept was then formally defined in a report published in 1992. Lindhqvist defined EPR as an environmental protection strategy that makes manufacturers responsible for the entire life cycle of their products, in particular for end-of-life take-back, recycling and final disposal. This type of responsibilitỳ, in the academic's conception, takes the form of a combination of administrative, economic and informational obligations on the producers of the goods from which the waste originates. In other words, it is a notion that places financial and operational responsibility for the waste generated on the producer.

The immediate consequence of such a structured responsibility is the need, upstream, for innovative, forward-looking design that considers the environmental impact of the product at every stage, including its end-of-life, so that downstream waste management can be improved.

The intervention of the European legislator


The concept of extended producer responsibility has been used extensively by the European legislator: indeed, it is an important tool to facilitate the transition to resource efficiency and for the management of many waste streams. 

In particular, in 2018, Directives (EU) 2018/851 and 2018/852 were enacted, according to which producers of goods marketed in the European Union are obliged to contribute to the management of waste from their own products, in order to move from a linear to a circular economy. Producers include those who develop, manufacture, process, sell or import the products covered by the measures.

On the subject of textile waste management, according to a report by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, the fashion sector is responsible for 20% of industrial waste water as well as producing around 20% of global waste, ranking it as one of the most polluting sectors in the world.

Therefore, the European legislator, with the Directive (EU) 2018/851 amending Directive 2008/98/EC, in order to make fashion houses responsible for the management of garments and accessories that have reached the end of their life cycle, establishes a series of obligations for producers in the supply chain, including the adoption of measures to prevent the production of waste from their products, starting from the design phase also through the promotion of the reuse of products and materials used; the reduction of the quantity of polluting materials used and the collaboration with the competent authorities to ensure the effective implementation of these provisions.

These are common objectives, therefore, for all European nations, to be implemented by the individual member states, which determine their implementation systems.

National cases


The record goes to France, which was the first to implement an EPR system for textile waste. In both France and Germany, as of January 2022, those who market certain product categories in the country are legally obliged to verify compliance with the EPR registration number, a unique identification code assigned to a product that complies with all the requirements in force for its category in the relevant state.

Product categories vary from state to state. Both countries mentioned include packaging (primary and secondary packaging), but only France, as mentioned, has already intervened with regard to textile products. 

To date, there is no single EPR number for the European Union, so the product in question must be registered in all relevant markets.

France and Germany also differ in the system adopted for waste management: in the former case, an 'integrated' model has been chosen; in the latter, a 'dual' one.

In the context of an integrated system, waste management is delegated to local authorities and the producer is required to contribute to the associated costs. In contrast, in a dual system, producers are responsible for organising the separation and disposal of their waste themselves, relying on bodies or consortia acting on their behalf, and must bear the full costs of fulfilling all EPR obligations.

Shifting our gaze to the Italian legal system, the directive was already transposed in 2020, with Legislative Decree No. 116 of 3 September, which amended the provisions of Part IV of Legislative Decree No. 152/2006 (Environmental Code) and introduced the minimum requirements in the presence of which EPR hypotheses are configured.

Among the obligations placed on the producer by these regulations are the definition of roles and responsibilities of all actors in the supply chain; the definition of quantities and types of products to be disposed of and/or recycled; and the appropriate communication to the users of the products of the data related to the placing on the market and treatment of the related waste.

Pursuant to the implementing legislative decree 116/2020, it is left to the competence of the individual ministries to define, through the instrument of the ministerial decree, the specific extended producer responsibility schemes in the relevant sector.

In this context, on 2 February 2023, the Ministry of the Environment and Energy Security (MASE), in agreement with the Ministry of Enterprise and 'Made in Italy' (MIMIT), presented an outline of a decree on extended producer responsibility in the textile sector and, in a note, clarified that it intends to create a system that 'enhances eco-innovation' and affirms 'the centrality of those who produce in respect of the law and the environment'.

It then launched a public consultation procedure on 16 February, which ended on 3 March, with the aim of involving key stakeholders in the adoption of legislation consistent with the current fashion industry.

In the draft decree, so-called 'eco-design' measures are defined, including

  • the use of biocompatible textile fibres and natural materials
  • the elimination of hazardous components and substances, also with regard to microplastics released into the environment;
  • the reduction of quality defects that lead to premature disposal by the consumer;
  • the development and use of advanced technologies for the use of recycled fibres;
  • the use of fibre and fabric processing techniques that favour adaptability to multiple uses and reparability.

The draft decree also envisages a digital labelling system describing fibre characteristics and composition, specifying the presence of non-textile parts of animal origin.

Finally, in order to achieve the set objectives and to guarantee the necessary coordination of the separate collection activity, it is foreseen that the Coordination Centre for Textile Recycling (CORIT) will be set up, which will involve the individual and collective collection, disposal and recycling management systems accredited by the MASE, promoting an integrated approach to waste management.

The implementation of the principle of extended producer responsibility, with divergent rules from state to state and legal interpretations that are not always uniform, is generating a regulatory framework that is complex to interpret and apply for companies marketing their products on the European market.

The hope is to move from common principles to a European regulation that regulates EPR in textiles in a timely and detailed manner, fostering an effective circular economy.

Cikis can help companies move through this intricate landscape to be compliant, by taking action to avoid practices that could lead to penalties and by creating a network between the actors in the sector that provide solutions for the implementation of the requirements of the regulation along the entire value chain.

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Francesca Poratelli
To analyse your sustainability level

After a work experience in Yamamay, she decided to specialize in the field of sustainability. She has dealt with sustainability assessments for companies ranging from outdoor clothing to textile merchandising.

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