France Moves to Ban Destruction of Unsold Consumer Goods

CC BY 4.0. James Santiago

Companies would have to hand over products for resale or recycling under new regulation.

Luxury fashion brand Burberry created a maelstrom last year when it was found to be incinerating its own unsold merchandise. The company admitted it was destroying €32 million (US$36m) in goods annually to "protect intellectual property and prevent illegal counterfeiting by ensuring the supply chain remains intact."

Destroying goods is not an uncommon practice in the fashion industry and among online retailers such as Amazon, but in light of growing environmental concerns, such actions appear shockingly out of touch with responsible resource use. I wrote at the time,

"There are accounts of H&M; and Nike slashing unsold merchandise to prevent it from entering the counterfeit market, of luxury watchmaker Richemont destroying merchandise, and fashion brand Céline destroying 'all the old inventory so there was no physical reminder of what had come before.'"

Now in France, the government is stepping in. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the country will be implementing a ban on destroying unsold or returned consumer products. The prime minister's office reported that over €650 million (US$733m) in goods are thrown away or destroyed every year in France. Said Philippe, "It is a waste that shocks, that is shocking to common sense. It's a scandal."

The ban would apply to non-food products, including clothes, hygiene products, cosmetics, and electric items. Companies would have to hand over their products for reuse or recycling. The French cabinet will discuss the measure in July, and it is projected to come into force by 2023 at the latest.

Support for green political parties is surging in Europe, a reflection of people's shifting values and concerns. It's clear that we cannot continue to condone practices of such rampant wastefulness, and if that means brands must find a new way of conducting business – say, limiting production of goods to keep items desirable and prices high, or opening repair workshops to receive returned goods – then that's what has to happen. Hopefully France's regulation will encourage businesses to consider alternatives.