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Soon, cleaner clothes coming to Europe

Several years back, the environmental group Greenpeace International had launched a major investigation into pollution in the textile industry, which helped publicise the widespread use of nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) in dyeing and treating apparel prior to sale. Greenpeace went beyond just publishing its findings; the group called on the European Commission to act.

The 2015 EU ban on NPEs falls into a broader EU scheme regulating chemicals, known as Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). Previous REACH rules already barred NPE use in manufacturing within EU boundaries, but failed to restrict the chemicals’ presence in imported goods. After the Greenpeace report emphasized this gap, Sweden used the REACH framework in 2013 to propose expanding the NPE ban to cover imported textiles. The approval process took another two years. After evaluation and endorsement by two committees, a public consolation period, market surveys, and the unanimous vote by EU member states that Greenpeace celebrated in the summer, the broader NPE ban was formalized earlier this year.

Under the revised REACH regulations that recently took effect, companies that sell textiles in the European Union have five years to eradicate NPEs from their products and supply chains. After the grace period expires in 2021, the regulations will prohibit the sale of clothing, accessories, or home textiles containing more than trace amounts of NPEs (.01 per cent by weight). The rule exempts second-hand textiles and those manufactured using recycled materials.