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Technical barriers raised for textiles exported to EU

Date: 2021-03-12

The European Union’s newly-released regulation that forbids textiles being put into market when their nonylphenol polyoxyethylene ether (NPE) content exceeds 0.01 percent took effect on Feb 3, further raising the technical barriers faced by domestic foreign trade enterprises. Chinese foreign trade enterprises need to strengthen the sense of social responsibility and turn to green manufacturing to achieve sustainable development. Also, they should improve quality control to ensure their products can enter the international market smoothly.


This is the first time that EU has imposed restrictions on the NPE content of textile products. Previously, the restriction only involves products for industrial cleaning, household cleaning, papermaking, and personal care.


The specific provisions are as follows:


1. Water-cleaned textile products with NPE content of more than 0.01 percent are prohibited from being sold in the market starting Feb 3, 2021.


2. Provision 1 does not apply to on-sale second-hand textile products or NPE-free and recycled materials-made textile products.


3. In terms of Provision 1 and Provision 2, textiles refer to any non-finished, semi-finished or finished products with a textile fiber content that more than 80 percent of its weight, or any other products made of no less than 80 percent of textile fiber including clothing, accessories, house textiles, fiber, yarn, fabric and knitwear.


NPE is a kind of surfactant widely applied in industrial cleaners and emulgators, textile products and leather cleaners, household cleaners, and metal deposition. It will be left in textile fiber when applied in textile products. The NPE left in the textile products will not harm people’s health, but will enter the environment through the process of washing.


Nonyl phenol (NP), an acknowledged toxic environment hormone, is easily split from NPE in water. It can simulate estrogen and interrupt the sexual development and internal secretion of creatures, consequently affect breeding. Even a low concentration of NP is harmful as it is a carcinogen. The substance can be accumulated via the food chain, and eventually causes problems such as sexual precocity and low-quality reproduction among human beings.


According to a report on NPE left in textiles released by an international environmental protection organization in 2011, two thirds of clothes contain NPE, including those of many famous brands. Because of the continuous efforts of many parties, the ban on NPE has attracted wide attention. Many famous clothing enterprises started making plans to eliminate harmful chemicals.


EU is one of the main export markets for China’s textile products and clothing. It is hence important that enterprises find solutions to the raised technical barriers of the EU market.


Some experts have pointed out that in order to meet the EU requirements, textile enterprises need to upgrade all stages of production, invest more in raw materials and product testing, improve their quality control system, and strengthen quality control of all production stages. 


With the increase in demand for safe, healthy and environmentally-friendly consumer goods worldwide, many other countries, not only EU, have paid great attention to harmful substances. Related regulations and restrictions will be stricter. At present, many countries have imposed stricter restrictions on NPE.


As early as July 2012, Germany has proposed including NP into the Substance of Very High Concern (SVHC) under the REACH Regulation. That same year in December, the eighth list of SVHCs included NP, which was defined as a substance extremely harmful to the environment.


The United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA) found eight safe substitutes for NPE based on careful evaluation in 2013, and listed 15 NPE-like chemicals in the Significant New Use Rule in October 2014. This means that the import and production of those substances require strict application procedures and the application must be done 90 days ahead. In this way, it is possible for the EPA to take effective risk control measures for NPE.


Although a consensus has been reached on the harmful effects of NPE, the ban on the substance will have great impact on the development of the textile industry today. It will be tough for Chinese export enterprises to deal with this situation. It is suggested that enterprises pay close attention to changes in security, sanitation and environmental protection regulations. Developed countries such as EU and the United States have imposed stricter restrictions on hazardous chemicals in consumer goods in recent years. The enterprises should also pay close attention to the updates by institutions such as the European Chemicals Agency and EPA.


Moreover, enterprises should enhance their sense of social responsibility. In the long run, the elimination of harmful substances in consumer goods will be the inevitable social responsibility enterprises need to bear. They should invest more in the R&D of green consumer goods, improve manufacturing techniques, reduce harmful waste emission, speed up transformation and upgrading, and gain respect.


Meanwhile, product testing should be stricter, particularly checks on the inevitable leftover of harmful substances due to technical limitation, to ensure that the quality of products can meet both domestic and overseas standards and to avoid financial loss caused by returned cargo.