If France and California seek solutions against greenwashing

Paris passed a law imposing an obligation to properly communicate how much a garment is made from recycled material. In California, the Responsible Textile Recovery Act effectively puts textile manufacturers on an equal footing with battery manufacturers. All united against greenwashing


From the beginning of this year, in France, if a brand claims that a T-shirt is made of recycled material, the label accompanying the garment must indicate the exact percentage. If a garment has more than 50% synthetic fibres, it must show that it will shed microfibres during washing.

In California, there is a proposed law that, in practice, treats textiles like batteries, whose manufacturers must also pay for the collection/recycling of products containing them. The recent Responsible Textile Recovery Act would require clothing and footwear brands to account for what happens to their products after they are sold. A first in the US.

Solutions against greenwashing

The two initiatives have in common to force fashion companies to make substantial leaps towards sustainability. And to make them decisively, seeking solutions against greenwashing. The problem, however, is that fashion does not seem quite ready to face a challenge that requires brands (all brands) to know their supply chain perfectly and at every step.

French law

The new regulation is foreseen within the anti-waste law. As of 1 January 2023, France obliges the most significant fashion companies to provide consumers with detailed information on environmental characteristics. In practice, clothing must be accompanied by informative labels showing an environmental ‘score’ from A to E to help shoppers make more informed purchasing decisions.

The legislation contains guidelines for when a company can declare an item is recyclable.  The law applies to companies that sell more than 25,000 articles per year and generate more than EUR 50 million in revenue in France.

For now, it does not cover leather goods. The legislation was passed in 2020, but details on the new requirements were only published in April 2022; brands complain that they have had little time to process the enormous volumes of data needed to comply. And they expect an extension. The maximum penalty is EUR 15,000, but the reputational and legal risk is enormous.

The Californian proposal

In California, a proposed law wants to make fashion brands responsible for the waste problem. It is called the Responsible Textile Recovery Act. It would require brands that manufacture or sell in California (individually or through a dedicated organisation) to establish a stewardship programme (by paying a fee to an entity) for the collection, repair or recycling of any clothing or textile product ‘that is not suitable for reuse by a consumer in its current state or condition‘.

According to supporters, the draft law includes a repair section that would benefit clothing companies and promote the creation of ‘circular jobs‘. Furthermore, it establishes a legal definition of ‘recycling’ of textile products to prevent misuse or greenwashing.

Finally, it outlines a set of collection obligations that, according to the proponents, would help ensure ‘fair and responsible management of materials’. For companies that do not comply, there are penalties of up to $50,000 per day and the publication by CalRecycle of a public list of compliant and non-compliant labels. The draft law was introduced on 16 February 2023 and will now go through the legislature. If all goes smoothly, the governor of California will sign it by September. It will only apply to unusable textiles.

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