Is banning the destruction of unsold goods really the right choice?

One European throw away as much as 11 kilograms of clothing every year. Worldwide, ‘one truckload of clothes per second ends up in landfill’. It is the dirty law of unsold clothes. For some governments, the right choice is to ban its destruction. Drawing the geography of the ban, we try to understand if they are right to impose it


Is banning the destruction of unsold clothing really the right choice? According to EU statistics, an average European throws away as much as 11 kilograms of clothing every year. Worldwide, Frans Timmermans (Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal) points out, “one truckload of clothes per second ends up in the incinerator or landfill”. It is clear that there is overproduction, and in order to limit it, governments are thinking of starting from the end: avoiding the destruction of unsold clothing.

France and Italy

France has got ahead of everyone with the AGEC law (Loi Anti-Gaspillage pour une Économie Circulaire), which stipulates that, as of 1 January 2022, manufacturers (including fashion manufacturers) can no longer dispose of unsold goods. Paris was the first government in the world to take such a measure. Italy, which shares luxury fashion production with France, took a step forward. Adolfo Urso, Minister for Enterprise and Made in Italy, promises, in fact, that the Rome-Paris axis will carry its weight in Brussels ‘especially with regard to the obligations to prohibit the destruction of unsold goods’.

Who is thinking about it

Many other countries are addressing the issue. The Scottish government is planning a circular economy draft law in 2023. In Spain, a law regulating waste disposal was passed in April 2022 and is expected to enter into force this year. In Germany, a circular economy law introduced more waste prevention in 2019. In Netherlands they have the ambition to develop a circular economy by 2050: a first step is to reduce the use of primary raw materials (minerals, fossils and metals) by 50% by 2030. A ban on destroying unsold goods is also one of the objectives.

Brussels and the others

The EU has not stood idly by. On 30 March 2022, it published a proposal for a regulation entitled ‘ESPR – Ecodesign for Sustainable Products‘ in which the destruction of unsold goods is prohibited with the aim of improving, among other things, the circularity of products. The target date for adopting specific standards for the fashion textile sector is 2025. Despite growing movements to combat waste in the United States, it is still legal to destroy excess products. From the other continents, however, no news comes.

Is it really the right choice?

But is banning the destruction of unsold products the right choice? The German institute for environmental strategies, Ökopol (member of the EEB – Europen Environmental Bureau), is not convinced. It writes that the deliberate destruction or disposal of returned or unsold goods seriously contradicts two of the critical objectives of the European Green Deal and the European Union’s Circular Economy Action Plan. One: is the promotion of a resource-efficient circular economy. Two: the reduction of waste generation. Moreover, many fear that landfill bans, if not accompanied by comprehensive solutions for the way companies manage their waste, will eventually result in items being dumped elsewhere.

What to do?

In the New York Times, Genevieve LeBaron, an expert on international labour at Simon Fraser University in Canada, observes that with considerable resistance from many companies, a looming global recession and an unstable geopolitical landscape, putting this into practice would be far from simple. While at WWD, Philippe Schiesser, founder of the eco-design consultancy Ecoeff Lab, broadens the horizons: ‘We have to see beyond the French or European context. It makes no sense to create a system for one territory because, for better or worse, the fashion industry is global’.

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