Regulators in the US and Europe are waking up to the mounting clothing waste problem that’s clogging local landfills and overwhelming countries such as Ghana and Chile. Increasingly, they’re asking brands to pay for it. Under rules that have been separately proposed in California, New York, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Italy — and are also under discussion in the UK and EU — fashion companies would have to fund textile recycling programs, in most cases by paying for the volume of clothing they produce. These “extended producer responsibility” (EPR) schemes, modeled after programs for other hard-to-recycle goods such as batteries, mattresses and medical sharps, require brands to pay fees based on their product output, or to set up their own recycling programs.

Fashion industry waste is a growing and largely unchecked problem. In the EU, textile waste totals about 4 million tons each year, while in the US it hit 17 million tons in 2018, up 80% over 2000. Garments that don’t end up in local landfills are often shipped in bulk to countries in the Global South. In Ghana, as many as 15 million discarded garments arrive every week, according to the Or Foundation, which advocates for fashion waste reform.

EPR regulations aim to make fashion brands part of the solution. “It’s forcing businesses to consider their footprint and getting them to think top to bottom and ask themselves, ‘How much do we need to be producing and how do we make sure we don’t have to pay for it on the backend?’” said Betina Baumgarten, a fashion law attorney and consultant at Fashion CUTS.

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Authors: Olivia Rockeman and Bloomberg, Fortune
Photo by Artificial Photography on Unsplash