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EU Law to be Adopted Soon, Banning from All Washable Textile Products a Substance Harmful to the Aquatic Environment

On 22 July 2015, the Council of the EU published, on its website, a European Commission draft text restricting nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE) in textile articles that are placed on the EU market. This soon-to-be-adopted future law will apply to all Hong Kong exporters of clothing and other textile accessories marketed in the EU.

Sweden had initially submitted its proposal to restrict both NPE and nonylphenol (NP), at a Europe-wide level, in September 2013. Since then, NP has been removed from the scope of the future restriction, as it is not used intentionally in textile processing.

Hong Kong traders may know that since 2005, the use of NPE (and NP) as substances or in mixtures, in concentrations of 0.1% or more, is restricted within the EU in the processing of textiles and leather. However, a majority of textiles purchased within the EU are imported from manufacturers and suppliers outside the EU, including from Hong Kong and mainland China.

Sweden claims that suppliers worldwide still use such substances today, for example as a detergent or as an emulsifying agent, in the manufacturing of their textiles. After being imported into the EU, the textile articles are washed and substance residues are thereby released into waste water, eventually ending up in the aquatic environment.

An EU-wide restriction of NPE in the case of textile articles is therefore felt to be justified, as the environmental risks have to be dealt with uniformly, in respect of all EU Member States.

The law, once adopted and published, will therefore introduce the following provisions:

  • NPE shall not be allowed after a cut-off date (currently scheduled to be 60 months from entry into force of the future law). This restriction will be imposed on textile articles which can reasonably be expected to be washed in water during their normal lifecycle, in concentrations equal to or greater than 0.01% by weight of that textile article or of each part of the textile article.
  • Hong Kong traders may be relieved to learn that the above restriction shall not apply to the placing on the market of second-hand textile articles, or to new textile articles which are produced, without the use of NPE, exclusively from recycled textiles.
  • As for the definition of “textile article”, this shall mean “any unfinished, semi-finished or finished product which is composed of at least 80% textile fibres by weight, or any other product that contains a part which is composed of at least 80% textile fibres by weight, including products such as clothing, accessories, interior textiles, fibres, yarn, fabrics and knitted panels”.

As the already-existing restriction on the use of NE and NPE as substances or in mixtures, during textile and leather processing within the EU, is set out in Entry 46 of Annex XVII of the REACH Regulation, the new restriction will be introduced as that Annex’s Entry 46a.

Given that the expected implementation of the restriction is to occur only after a grace period of 60 months from the law’s entry into force, Hong Kong’s clothing and accessories exporters should have sufficient time in which to take the appropriate compliance measures.

Regarding the law’s adoption process, if the Council or the European Parliament do not oppose the future restriction (using a process called “Regulatory committee with scrutiny”), the Commission will adopt the Regulation, and add the restriction to the REACH Regulation’s Annex XVII.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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