Skip to content

"Sweden, France and Denmark calls for new global rules on exporting textile waste to developing countries"


Opinion piece by Romina Pourmokhtari, Minister for Climate and the Environment in Sweden, Christophe Béchu, Minister for Ecological Transition and Cohesion of the Territories in France and Magnus Heunicke, Minister for the Environment in Denmark, published in Dagens industri, March 25 2024.

We must put an end to exporting our textile waste problems to developing countries. That is why Sweden, France and Denmark today are proposing new global rules for exporting textile waste under the Basel Convention.

There have never been so many clothes sold in the world, with over 100 billion new pieces of clothing sold every year. This impressive growth comes with environmental challenges, as the production of textiles requires large amounts of energy, water and use of chemicals. The lifecycle of textiles is another source of pollution, including the release of increasing quantities of microplastics in the environment. The textile sector is also a significant contributor to climate change, as it accounts for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than air or maritime transport.

Over the past 20 years, the EU's exports of used textiles have tripled. In 2019 alone 1.7 million tons of textiles were exported outside the EU, mainly to countries in Africa and Asia who do not have the capacity to ensure proper waste management. Mismanaged textile waste frequently ends up in landfills or in nature, where it causes harm to both humans, animals and the environment. 

It is time to act, firmly!

Sweden. France and Denmark have been implementing national policies and initiatives to enhance the sector’s sustainability. At the EU level, the recent adoption of the corporate sustainability due diligence directive will provide a first response to these challenges by setting obligations for large companies regarding actual and potential adverse impacts on human rights and the environment for the value chain of their activites, including in the textile sector. The ongoing targeted revision of the waste framework directive gives us another opportunity to reinforce textile waste processing and recycling within the EU.  

However, the import and export of waste are regulated at the global level under the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. The Basel Convention does not currently require an exporter to obtain prior informed consent from the importing state when exporting textile waste, which is the case for other highly problematic waste streams like household waste, plastic waste and electronic waste. There is also no requirement to ensure that the importing country has the capacity to manage the textile waste in an environmentally sound manner. 

That is why we, Sweden, France and Denmark, propose to subject textile waste to the control mechanisms of the Basel Convention. Following the approach taken to regulate electronic waste under the Basel Convention, this would mean 1) requiring prior informed consent to be obtained for the import and export of textile waste, and 2) banning the export of hazardous textile waste (e.g. stained with chemicals or paint) altogether. 

We believe this approach could bring about significant environmental and health benefits in developing countries without impairing second-hand clothing tracks, and be a way for the EU to show global leadership and responsibility in alignment with the EU strategy for sustainable and circular textiles and in the framework of the ongoing negotiation of the treaty to end plastic pollution. The initiative would also provide more data on what types of textiles are exported and where they end up.

We now call on our EU colleagues to support our proposal. The current practice and level of textile waste exports are not sustainable. The member states of EU need to take responsibility, show leadership and introduce clear and effective global restrictions to tackle this pollution. 

Let’s act now.

Romina Pourmokhtari, Minister for Climate and the Environment in Sweden

Christophe Béchu, Minister for Ecological Transition and Cohesion of the Territories in France

Magnus Heunicke, Minister for the Environment in Denmark