To ramp up the fight against waste, France’s Senate has just passed new legislation making the destruction of unsold items illegal, including non-food products like cosmetics and clothing. This bill is a major step up from previous laws aimed at food waste, and will now target other wasteful sectors, such as the fashion industry – in which France is a major world leader. Moves such as these should serve as an example to other governments, who urgently need to join in to combat the global waste crisis.
The new bill will ban producers, importers and distributors, as well as online companies, from burning or throwing away unsold non-food items. Other than those items that may pose a health or security risk, companies must either reuse or donate unsold items, including cosmetics, clothing, shoes, textiles, electronics and plastics. This is a step up from previous laws in France that has already made it illegal for supermarkets to destroy unsold food, requiring them to transfer them to charities.
The goal of the law is to promote a circular economy amid the country’s waste crisis. Brune Poirson, the French ecological transition minister, has estimated that the country throws out “up to 2 Eiffel Towers” worth of clothes and shoes each year. These new rules, as a part of France’s “anti-waste and circular economy” bill will help save almost 1 billion euros worth of unsold non-food items from ending up in landfills or destroyed annually.
This is a major piece of legislation that will combat the wasteful practices in the fashion industry, especially amongst luxury players. France has long been hailed as the capital of the world for the industry notorious for waste – fashion. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 87% of the total fibre input used for clothing is landfilled or incinerated.
Luxury fashion brands, in particular, are at the crux of fuelling the problem as they burn unsold or returned products in order to retain customer exclusivity. In an earnings report in July 2018, Burberry was caught out for destroying unsold clothes, accessories and perfume worth over US$35 million in 2017 to prevent them from being stolen or sold cheaply on the market. After receiving huge public backlash, the fashion firm decided to stop incinerating overstock. The brand also works to address waste issues in other ways such as their partnership with sustainable brand Elvis & Kresse to upcycle leather off-cuts into new products, which they established in 2017. In another scandal unveiled by French television channel M6, Amazon was shown to throw out unsold goods, including electronics, books and toys in a designated “destruction” zone.
In conversation with with French newspaper La Croix, the French ecological transition ministry said: “We appreciate their desire not to give away unsold items but they’re going to have to find other solutions, such as selling at knock-down prices to staff, taking the labels off, reusing the materials in-house or in recycling chains.”
Waste is not just a problem in the fashion industry, nor is it France’s problem alone – it is a global problem across all sectors. This means that other governments around the world need to also be taking much-needed actions to clamp down on companies responsible for waste. France’s new laws are a good example for other countries on some of the measures that can be implemented to pressure all industries to rethink the way business is done and their role in sustainability.
This article was updated to reflect that Burberry’s collaboration with Elvis & Kresse began in 2017 and was not a result of the burning of overstock, which we had previously implied. We regret the error.
Lead image courtesy of CEO Magazine / Green Queen.