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Textile Products Containing Substance Harmful to Aquatic Environment to be Prohibited under New EU Law

On 14 January 2016, the EU’s Official Journal published Commission Regulation 2016/26 restricting nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE) in textile articles that are placed on the EU market. This Regulation, once a specific transition period is over, will apply to all clothing and textile accessories, whether manufactured in the EU or imported.

The core part of Regulation 2016/26, i.e., the actual text of the restriction, has been incorporated into Annex XVII of the REACH Regulation. Hong Kong sellers of a variety of consumer goods may already be familiar with Annex XVII of REACH, as it lists the substances and the products containing them which are prohibited, subject only to very limited tolerated concentrations. For example, toys containing certain phthalates, jewellery containing lead, and clothing containing azodyes are already severely restricted.

Sweden had initially submitted its Proposal to restrict, EU-wide, both NPE and nonylphenol (NP), in mid-2013. Since then, NP was removed from the scope of Sweden’s proposed restriction. Therefore, only NPE is subject to the finally-adopted restriction. 

The new Regulation notes that the REACH Regulation already prohibits the placing on the EU market of NPE itself, as a substance or in mixtures, for the purpose of textiles and leather processing. However, several market surveys have identified the presence of NPE in textile articles, at different concentrations. According to Sweden (as mentioned in its Proposal), this is because a majority of textiles purchased within the EU are imported from manufacturers and suppliers outside the EU, including from mainland China, India, Bangladesh and Turkey.

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. Thus, during normal conditions of washing textile articles in water, release of NPE into the aquatic environment poses unacceptable risks. 

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

Regulation 2016/26 therefore introduces the following restriction provisions:

  • NPE shall not be placed on the market after 3 February 2021 in 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.
  • As second-hand textile articles will usually, it is assumed, have already been washed several times and therefore contain negligible amounts of NPE, if any, the above-mentioned restriction shall not apply to the placing on the market of second-hand textile articles. Similarly, the restriction shall not apply to new textile articles which are produced, without the use of NPE, exclusively from recycled textiles.
  • As for the definition of the term 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”. The Regulation also states that clothing products would encompass all such products, e.g., for people, toys and animals.

As noted above, there is an already-existing restriction on the use of NPE, as a substance or in mixtures, during textile and leather processing within the EU. This is set out in Entry 46 of Annex XVII of the REACH Regulation. In consequence, the new restriction has been incorporated into Annex XVII as Entry 46a.

Given that the implementation of the EU restriction is to occur only after a grace period of 5 years from the law’s entry into force on 3 February 2016, Hong Kong’s clothing and accessories exporters should have sufficient time in which to take the appropriate compliance measures.

Please click on the following to view Commission Regulation 2016/26.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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