The European Ecolabel system allows the products of manufacturers, retailers or service providers to carry the distinctive ‘Flower’ label for marketing purposes throughout the 27 Member States of the EU.
The EU Ecolabel for clothing, bed linen and indoor textiles is a voluntary eco-labelling scheme from the European Commission encouraging the use of sustainable practices in textile manufacturing, including quantitative restrictions on waste-water emissions and hazardous substances. The use of sustainable fibres is also strongly encouraged.
What it applies to
Every product and service placed on the market in the European Economic Area – the European Union plus Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway – that meets the EU Ecolabel criteria for that product or service can be awarded the EU Ecolabel. Here is a quick fact sheet on the label and how it applies to textiles.
Changes to criteria for sustainable cottons, recycled synthetics, and the recovery of wool waste along with the introduction of a new restricted substance list are some of the highlights of the latest version of the European Eco-Label standard.
The EU Ecolabel Regulatory Committee has voted to accept new criteria proposals for textiles labelled to the EU Eco-Label standard. The new criteria replaces the previous decision (2009/567/EC) passed in 2009, and comes into force for at least a four-year period.
The textile product criteria for the EU EcoLabel standard was approved at a meeting of the EU Ecolabel Regulatory Committee towards the end of 2013, where it was agreed that cotton and other natural cellulosic fibres will have to contain a minimum content of organic or ‘IPM’ (integrated pest management) cottons (see below).
In addition, criteria have been put in place for man-made cellulosics, recycled synthetic fibres and wool scouring.
Other significant changes are that fluorine chemistry used to make water, oil and stain repellent fabrics are banned under the voluntary standard, and for the first time a brand new restricted substance list has been introduced.
The Eco-Label revision comes as part of the European Union’s stated drive to ensure 10 – 20 per cent of textiles sold in Europe are eventually aligned with EU Eco-Label criteria. These criteria are revised and continually tightened – usually every four years – to take into account the state-of-the-art textile innovation in a bid to help consumers identify products with the lowest environmental impact throughout their life-cycle.
New changes in the revision relate to tougher new criteria for synthetic textile fibres that would ensure EU Eco-Labelled polyester and nylon fabrics either contain a minimum recycled content (either pre- or post- consumer for nylon) or address VOC or N2O emissions to air from fibre and polymer production sites.
The new criteria also states that if the 70 per cent recycled content threshold is not achieved for nylon, then Eco-Labelled goods should be made of 20 per cent recycled material, or reduced N2O emissions.
Regarding polyester, if the recycled content is less than 70 per cent, two out of the following three measures apply: (a) antimony presence under 260 ppm; (b) recycled content 50 per cent for staple fibres and 20% for filament fibres: and (c) tight emissions of VOCs during the PET production for chips and fibre.
The EU committee also voted through stringent proposals that mean specific cotton apparel items, such as t-shirts, jeans, casual shirts and socks and underwear, labelled as organic must contain at least 95 per cent organic cotton, as per the EU 834/2007 and US National Organic Programme standards.
All cotton blended with organic cotton needs to come from non-genetically modified sources, and clothing for babies of less than 3 years old (labelled as organic) shall contain a minimum of 95 per cent organic cotton.
Alternatively, and reflecting concerns about the market availability of organic cotton, if these same items of clothing are made with non-organic cotton, to meet Eco-Label criteria they must be made up of at least 60 per cent ‘IPM’ cotton that is grown in line with the principles as defined by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) IPM programme. All cotton content must also be free of specific listed pesticides.
Organotin is not allowed during the production of elastane fibres, and lead pigments are not to be used for the production of polypropylene. The use of manual and mechanical sandblasting to achieve distressed denim finishes is not to be permitted.
For flax and other bast fibres, new requirements for retting have been introduced. As before, these plants should be retted under ambient conditions and without thermal energy inputs to extract the fibrous pulp, and where water retting has been used, the wastewater from retting ponds shall be treated so as to reduce the COD or TOC by at least 75 per cent for hemp fibres, and by at least 95 per cent for flax and other bast fibres.
Wool textile changes
The wool textile criteria have been tightened with new limits for the chemical oxygen demand (COD) of process water prior to any on-site treatment, as well as final COD before discharge of effluent.
For example, in order to be labelled with the ‘Eco-Flower’, wool scourers need to demonstrate they have recovered value from waste grease, fibre, suint or sludge either for sale as a feedstock for the production of compost or the use of these by-products in other products such as building materials. For anti-felting and shrinking resistance halogenated substances or preparations shall only be applied to wool slivers and loose scoured wool.
For man-made cellulose fibres, a minimum 25 per cent of pulp used to make the fibres shall be manufactured from wood that has been grown according to the principles of sustainable forestry management, and bleached without the use of elemental chlorine.
In addition, pulp used to manufacture cellulosic fibres should be bleached without the use of elemental chlorine. The resulting total amount of chlorine and organically bound chlorine in the finished fibres (OX) should not exceed 150 ppm, or in the wastewater from pulp manufacturing (AOX) should not exceed 0.170 kg/ADt pulp.
Durability of function
In addition to outlawing fluorine-based textile finishes for water, oil and stain repellent textiles, the new version of the standard tightens up durability criteria across a range of treatments. To be labelled with the Eco-flower, water repellents shall retain a functionality of 80 out of 90 after 20 domestic wash and tumble dry cycles at 40°C, or after 10 industrial washing and drying cycles at a minimum of 75°C.
Oil repellents shall retain a functionality of 3.5 out of 4.0 after 20 domestic wash and tumble dry cycles at 40°C, or after 10 industrial washing and drying cycles at a minimum of 75°C. Stain repellents shall retain a functionality of 3.0 out of 5.0 after 20 domestic wash and tumble dry cycles at 40°C, or after 10 industrial washing and drying cycles at a minimum of 75°C.
Industrial washing temperatures may be reduced to 60°C for garments with taped seams.
Going further than existing EU legislation, including the updated biocides Directive which came into force in September 2013, labelled textiles shall not have biocides be incorporated into fibres, fabrics or the final product in order to impart antimicrobial properties. This applies to common treatments including triclosan, nano-silver, zinc organic compounds, tin organic compounds, dichlorophenyl (ester) compounds, benzimidazol derivatives and isothiazolinones.
Perhaps the biggest and most ambitious change to this well-known standard is the introduction for the first time of a dedicated restricted substance list. Given that it covers all aspects of textile production from fibre and yarn spinning through to the final product, it is too large to include within these pages.
Existing holders of the EU Eco-Label have a transitional period to adapt their textile products to comply with the revised criteria. The criteria are valid until 4th June 2018.
The European Union Ecolabelling Board (EUEB) is made up of the competent bodies from each Member State, and interested parties form the consultation forum.
The European Commission manages the scheme at EU level to ensure correct implementation of the Ecolabel regulation.
The Regulatory Committee consists of governmental experts from the Member States. After the criteria are finalised, they are voted upon by the Regulatory Committee. The Commission cannot adopt criteria before voting takes place in the Ecolabel Regulatory Committee by a qualified majority.
The EU Ecolabel textile products user manual, includes label application information, the aims of the criteria, product declarations and checklists.
Potential Ecolabel applicants should contact their national Competent Body, which is available for technical support throughout the application process.
Declarations, documents, data sheets and test results may be necessary to prove compliance with the EU Ecolabel criteria.
The application should be submitted online using the Ecat_admin tool, and the complete dossier should be sent by post to the relevant Competent Body to be assessed.