France will ban firms from destroying unsold consumer goods by 2023.
The measure, billed by the government as a “world first”, is to be a key part of a new anti-waste law to be launched next month. It follows similar laws on food in recent years.
The issue of unsold goods – clothes, household gadgets, beauty products… – being thrown away for landfill or incineration was highlighted in January when M6 investigative programme Capital ran an exposé on Amazon with help from the charity Les Amis de la Terre and union members at an Amazon site.
They estimated Amazon was destroying more than three million products a year across its five French sites, and Les Amis de la Terre claimed the figure could double next year considering the firm is hoping to double its warehouse space.
The problem was said to arise because of substantial fees the firm charges to partner sellers to stock their products at its warehouses, meaning they prefer to ask Amazon to destroy unsold items rather than keep them on the shelves.
However while Amazon is seen as emblematic of the problem due to its market dominance, such practices are typical of most of the clothes industry and the e-commerce industry generally according to Les Amis de la Terre.
The government says the new law will oblige firms to give products away or recycle them, as opposed to throwing them away.
The office of Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who announced the new measure, estimates that products worth more than €600million are thrown away each year.
Mr Philippe told journalists: “We can avoid this scandalous waste. Our idea isn’t to act by force and obligation, but rather to accompany the firms so that we can move on to a new phase in our economy.”
The prime minister’s office says the measure will apply from the end of 2021 for products for which there are established collection and recycling networks and by the end of 2023 at the latest for the rest.
Areas still to work out include how to reassure luxury brands worried about its items ending up being resold at cut-price rates and what to do with certain products, such as foundation make-up, that are not usable after a sell-by date.
Les Amis de la Terre said this was “important news” and it is glad that all consumer products are concerned by it.
The charity said however it hoped there would be tax incentive measures to encourage the firms to give the items to associations, not just send them for recycling.