U.S. PIRG launches ‘Waste is Out of Fashion’ campaign

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Olivia Sullivan

Group urges states to stop fashion companies’ wasteful practice of destroying unsold clothing

U.S. PIRG

DENVER — Every second, the equivalent of one dump truck filled with clothing and other textiles from around the world is sent to a landfill or incinerator. Perhaps even more upsetting, many of the clothes were never even worn. Clothing companies commonly destroy, incinerate or send to the landfill unsold and unused clothing, known as overstock, to make way for new merchandise. To address the huge amount of clothing that is wasted and turned into environmental pollution each year, U.S. PIRG and state PIRGs launched a campaign on Tuesday calling on states to hold the industry accountable for its overproduction and ban the destruction of overstock.

“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,” said Olivia Sullivan, Zero Waste Program associate at U.S. PIRG. “Throwing away unwanted clothing isn’t a valid solution to overproduction. It compounds the problem by reinforcing the belief that everything is disposable.”

Clothing and other textile waste now make up the fastest growing waste stream in the United States. Meanwhile, the practice of disposing of overstock has gotten out of control in the fashion industry. Burberry reported in its 2018 annual report that the company burned $36.8 million worth of unsold clothing.

Apparel companies are very secretive about what happens with their overstock merchandise because they understand wastefulness is not attractive to consumers. 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.”

State and local governments must take action to ensure that the overproduction of clothing does not continue to fuel a mounting waste crisis. France has set a precedent against overstock waste by passing a law banning companies from destroying unsold products, including clothing. U.S. PIRG says that by banning the incineration or landfilling of overstock, U.S. states can put an end to this wasteful practice in this country.

“Waste is a design flaw, yet it is inherent in the fashion industry’s business model,” Sullivan said. “When fashion brands are hyper-focused on endlessly pumping out the next trend, massive amounts of waste are inevitable. Clothing manufacturers and retailers should not be overproducing clothing just to throw it out. That’s why we need state governments to take action.”

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