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It’s an open secret in fashion. Unsold inventory goes to the incinerator; excess handbags are slashed so they can’t be resold; perfectly usable products are sent to the landfill to avoid discounts and flash sales. The European Union wants to put an end to these unsustainable practices. On Monday, it banned the destruction of unsold textiles and footwear.
“It is time to end the model of ‘take, make, dispose’ that is so harmful to our planet, our health and our economy,” Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Alessandra Moretti said in a statement. “Banning the destruction of unsold textiles and footwear will contribute to a shift in the way fast fashion manufacturers produce their goods.”
This comes as part of a broader push to tighten sustainable fashion legislation, with new policies around ecodesign, greenwashing and textile waste phasing in over the next few years. The ban on destroying unsold goods will be among the longer lead times: large businesses have two years to comply, and SMEs have been granted up to six years. It’s not yet clear on whether the ban applies to companies headquartered in the EU, or any that operate there, as well as how this ban might impact regions outside of Europe.
For many, this is a welcome decision that indirectly tackles the controversial topics of overproduction and degrowth. Policymakers may not be directly telling brands to produce less, or placing limits on how many units they can make each year, but they are penalising those overproducing, which is a step in the right direction, says Eco-Age sustainability consultant Philippa Grogan. “This has been a dirty secret of the fashion industry for so long. The ban won’t end overproduction on its own, but hopefully it will compel brands to be better organised, more responsible and less greedy.”
Clarifications to come
There are some kinks to iron out, says Scott Lipinski, CEO of Fashion Council Germany and the European Fashion Alliance (EFA). The EFA is calling on the EU to clarify what it means by both “unsold goods” and “destruction”. Unsold goods, to the EFA, mean they are fit for consumption or sale (excluding counterfeits, samples or prototypes). “Our industry is also firmly committed to the development of new practices such as remanufacturing and upcycling, which give a second life to unsold products while allowing creative freedom to thrive, and we strongly oppose any ban that would put an end to these practices.”