France Is About To Ban Stores From Throwing Away Unsold Clothing


Jan. 4 2019, Updated 6:31 p.m. ET

France has been very progressive in terms of eliminating product waste. Two years ago, they were the first country to pass a law that prevented grocery stores and supermarkets from throwing away food that neared expiration. Now they’re having a same approach to the textile industry that prohibits throwing away unsold clothes.

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Back in 2016, France had a problem with an increase in homeless people rummaging through store dumpsters. This led to attempts by store owners to keep them out by adding locks around their garbage. Instead of throwing these items out, the country passed a law requiring these stores to donate them to charity.

A similar approach could be given to clothing waste by next year. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has a goal to create a circular economy in France, and out of the numerous proposals, one of them is to prohibit throwing away any apparel that isn’t sold. Emmaus, a charity founded in Paris that focuses on poverty, have been advocating for an expansion of the food waste law into the clothing industry.

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“The 2019 deadline allows the government to appraise the situation, calculate the amount of discarded [textiles], review the procedures put in place by companies and the problems involved,” Valerie Fayard, general assistant at Emmaus France, told Novethic, a local sustainable research and transformation company. 

How big of a problem is it in France? According to the Fashion Network, Europe throws away four million tons of clothing while five million tons is put back into the market on an annual basis. In France alone, they represent 17.5 percent of that waste, and only 22.9 percent of what’s tossed out is recycled.

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Conversation on clothing waste sparked last February when Nathalie Beauval posted a photo of a French clothing store, Celio, destroying old clothes. She said on Facebook that these should be given to charity instead of being ripped up. Store officials argued that it was company policy to shred them as they were unwearable and they regularly donated older clothing items.

The government is looking to add incentives to push these companies toward voluntarily disposing clothes. Along with food waste and textiles, they’re looking to eliminate waste in three other major industries: electronics, furniture, and hotels. Legislation is expected to pass at some point next year.

France was the leading country in Europe in limiting food waste according to the 2017 Food Sustainability Index. While grocery store waste represents just 11 percent of total food waste in the country, these early steps in eliminating waste provide a blueprint for others to follow. After all, much of this waste can not only be avoided, but it can be donated to those in need.


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