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A U.S. public interest advocacy organization is calling on state lawmakers to take action to prevent apparel companies from destroying unsold garments and excess materials. “The first step in reducing fashion waste is to stop the practice of throwing away overstock clothing,” U.S. Public Interest Research Group asserted this month as part of its newly-unveiled “Waste is Out of Fashion” campaign, pointing to a United Nations Environment Programme statistic that “every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of clothing or other textiles is landfilled or burned.” 

The Denver, Colorado-based U.S. Public Interest Research Group (“USPIRG”) and its various state entities assert that “clothing companies commonly destroy, incinerate or send to the landfill unsold and unused clothing, known as overstock, to make way for new merchandise,” thereby, resulting in a “huge amount of clothing that is wasted and turned into environmental pollution each year.” In the U.S., the group states that clothing and other textile waste “now makes up the fastest growing waste stream,” as the practice of disposing of overstock has gotten “out of control” in the fashion industry.

“Apparel companies are very secretive about what happens with their overstock merchandise because they understand wastefulness is not attractive to consumers,” USPIRG asserted in a campaign release on January 12. “Some companies, such as Nike, hide their waste in plain sight in their impact reports and waste policies, cleverly calling the incineration of unsold goods ‘energy recovery’ or  ‘waste to energy.’” 

Meanwhile, the group notes that Burberry revealed in its 2018 annual report that it destroyed $36.8 million worth of unsold products. (The British brand has since vowed to stop burning unsold products and/or excess materials, and as recently as December 2020, announced an initiative that will see it donate leftover fabrics to fashion students in the United Kingdom, assuming that such materials do not bear any of the brand’s copyright or trademark-protected prints or patterns). 

In furtherance of the new campaign, which specifically targets waste within the fashion industry, USPIRG says that it is calling on state lawmakers “to hold the industry accountable for its overproduction and ban the destruction of overstock,” presumably via legislation. “State and local governments must take action to ensure that the overproduction of clothing does not continue to fuel a mounting waste crisis,” USPIRG asserts, noting that “France has set a precedent against overstock waste by passing a law banning companies from destroying unsold products, including clothing.” 

Last year, various state arms of the national USPIRG, including those in Oregon, Massachusetts, Maryland, Washington, and California, said that they will support policies that hold producers in an array of industries “responsible for the waste they create, which can incentivize a shift to a circular economy.” At the same time, California’s Public Interest Research Group stated that it is “calling on California’s state legislature to ban clothing companies from incinerating overstock apparel that was never sold or sending it to a landfill.” 

“We are making more clothes than we can wear. Millions of garments produced each year are never even worn before heading to a landfill or incinerator,” California Public Interest Group associate Claudia Deeg said this month. “Throwing away unwanted clothing is not a valid solution to overproduction.” Instead, “It compounds the problem by reinforcing the belief that everything is disposable.” Speaking specifically of California, Deeg asserted that the state – which is home to apparel giants like Fashion Nova and Forever 21 – spends over $70 million each year to landfill textile waste.