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Next in fashion: extended producer responsibility?
There have been reports describing vast wastelands filled with clothing, much of it in developing countries. Clothes are “donated” by rich nations to developing countries, but all the items are good for is litter in landfills. Ultimately, it is the end user who becomes responsible for the environmental impact and disposal of the items. The question arises, who should be responsible for the problem?
Extended Producer Responsibility
Extended Producer Responsibility (“EP extension“) is an approach that places significant responsibility on the manufacturer for the disposal of manufactured products. The goal is to incentivize manufacturers to extend the life of their products and shift some of the environmental costs associated with product disposal from consumers and the environment to manufacturers themselves. While such policies remain scarce around the world, this is set to change with the global focus on the circular economy, particularly in the apparel, textile, footwear and leather retail sectors (“R-CTFL“) industry.
In South Africa, the paper and plastic packaging, lighting and electronic and electrical products sectors are regulated by the National Environmental Management: Waste Act, 2008 read into the Extended Producer Responsibility Regulations, 2020 (“EPR regulation“).
In France probably the house of fashion and certainly high fashionMany EPR schemes apply to a variety of industries, including the textile and footwear industries. The French EPR program is the largest in the European Union and is expected to double its application from 12 to 22 industries over the next three years. Although the collection of old clothes by the producer responsibility organization (“PRO“) in France is effective, once collected there are no facilities in the country to recycle or recycle the fabrics. In addition, manufacturers only pay EUR 0.01-0.06 per piece of clothing, depending on the type and duration of the garment and the incorporation of recycled fibers These measures do not appear to discourage overproduction and once collected, the garments are likely to end up elsewhere.
The South African EPR regulations provide various options for managing an EPR scheme. Independent PROs have been set up and manufacturers can join voluntarily or create and manage an EPR scheme in-house. However, unlike France, which has a single PRO per sector, the options available in South Africa lead to competition concerns as not all manufacturers adhere to the same PRO, resulting in high administrative costs for those who comply. It has also been argued by the industry that penalties for non-compliance are not persuasive enough.
Used and used market
Interestingly, luxury and fast fashion brands alike have recently indicated the inclusion of second-hand clothing platforms to serve their existing customer base. The second-hand market is set to grow globally to $14.5 billion over the next five years. This demonstrates that voluntary EPR programs can be more effective than legislative interventions. For a successful second-hand market to exist, overproduction must be minimized and the quality of clothes improved for longevity.
Many industry specialists fear that the current trendy fast brands are interested in the financial value of this industry and present another example of greenwashing. Perhaps the potential profits associated with the growing used market will incentivize upgrading or, at the very least, better quality virgin items to ensure longevity for the used market.
Local retail-textile, footwear and tanning industry
In South Africa, landfills are running out of capacity, although clothing and apparel are not yet a constraint in this regard. The R-CTFL local industry needs to regain its market share, recognized in the South African Masterplan for the Retail, Apparel, Textiles, Footwear and Leather Value Chain, signed in 2019. The R-CTFL Signatories have committed to 65% local production by 2030. The list includes:
- Truworth Limited;
- Mr Price;
- the Foschini Group;
- Edcon (Edgar);
- Pepkor; And
- Choose and pay for clothing.
For now, as costs rise, current and historic imports of cheap clothing may be all many South Africans can afford. However, the environmental impact shouldn’t just be borne by the consumer. It appears that the EPR regime may be particularly suited to synthetic clothing items. The influx of clothing from abroad has caused a hindrance for the local manufacturing industry. An EPR program for the R-CTFL industry could aid in R-CTFL wasteland prevention and provide environmental regulation of excessive imports.
EPR scheme to assist local industry and reduce excessive imports
EPR regulations aim to hold manufacturers, importers, brand owners and in some cases retailers accountable for the entire lifecycle of a product. The ultimate goal is a ‘cradle to cradle’ rather than ‘cradle to grave’ fate for products included in the EPR scheme. The inclusion of importers and brand owners would result in the EPR regulations applying to imported textiles and clothing.
An intelligently drafted EPR scheme for the R-CTFL industry could solve the mountains of industrial waste and hold importers accountable for the ultimate environmental impacts of the R-CTFL industry. Implementing such an idea would be environmentally friendly and encourage the production of clothes that can stay around for a long time. Fashion trends are often circular or cyclical, so clothes that have the potential to circulate with repairs or upcycling over time should be the gold standard.
The content of this article is intended to provide general guidance on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding the specific circumstances.
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