On October 15, 2019, a newly formed US-based fashion policy group debuted at the Fashion Institute of Technology‘s 2019 Sustainability Awareness Week, participating in a panel called, “Should We Ban Unsold Fashion Waste?” The Fashion Waste Policy Alliance is made up of experts, including members of TNFI, with various backgrounds in sustainability, labor rights and government policy experience. Together, they hope to help solve the clothing industry’s sustainability challenges by looking at potential policy and regulatory solutions at both the local, state and federal level. And they plan to start with tackling fashion waste.
The members of the Fashion Waste Policy Alliance are TNFI Founder, Lauren B. Fay; TNFI board member and “The Conscious Closet” author Elizabeth L. Cline; Sara Ziff of the Model Alliance, Jessica Schreiber, the Founder of FABSCRAP; Ariele Elias, Project Coordinator at FIT, and Hilary Jochmans, political consultant at Jochmans Consulting, LLC.
The U.S. Lags Behind Europe in Regulating Fashion Waste
In 2018, Burberry was caught destroying tens of millions of dollars of unsold merchandise, revealing a pervasive and hidden industry practice to an outraged public. In France, the answer has been to ban the destruction of unsold apparel. The U.S., despite its large apparel industry, is falling behind the rest of the world in regulating a transition to a greener fashion industry. Notably, the United States has taken no position on the destruction of unsold fashion products, which wastes valuable resources.
The Pros and Cons of Banning the Destruction of Unsold Apparel in the United States
At FIT, the Fashion Waste Policy Alliance debated the pros and cons of enacting a ban on the destruction of unsold apparel goods. They discussed why brands destroy products in the first place, and potential solutions to the problems. The reasons are as varied as protecting brand integrity and trademarks to overproduction and changes in consumer behaviors in foreign markets, including China. What’s more, the U.S. offers brands “drawbacks” on tariffs for destroying unsold goods, meaning the government essentially rewards brands for destroying products they don’t sell.
Drawing From the E-Waste Ban?
So, what are the solutions? Jochmans noted that the environment in DC would be against federal policy changes, including those addressing customs, so the group turned to what a potential ban on the practice might look like on a city level, to begin with. Currently, New York City businesses are mandated to recycle textile waste, if it comprises more than 10% of their waste stream. While the group acknowledges the potential of the idea of banning unsold goods, enforcement is clearly an issue. As Schreiber explained, there is no one collecting information about what companies are throwing out. She also discussed the parallels to the New York City e-waste ban, enacted in 2011, which has reduced e-waste to landfills dramatically but has often overwhelmed waste management and recycling facilities.
Public Private Partnerships Could Be A Solution
Public-private partnerships might also be a way forward. Ziff, who oversaw legislative changes to New York City’s child model laws in 2013, talked about the potential of a legally binding agreement between brands, non-profits and waste management to solve the issue, giving the example of Worker Driven Social Responsibility. Public-private partnerships, Ziff noted, have the potential to be more effective, especially if they’re legally binding. Likewise, it could be useful to require private charter companies that deal with NYC business waste to recycle items, noted Jochmans.
The Fashion Waste Policy Alliance’s next steps are to continue conversations with local leaders and industry experts to further develop a plan to tackle this important issue.