Wasteful destruction of unsold goods must be banned, NGOs urge the EU

Belgian, French and German initiatives to end product destruction must be upscaled at the single-market level

Brussels, 25 October 2021 – The deliberate destruction and disposal of unsold or returned goods by European producers and online retailers contradicts the EU Green Deal and Circular Economy Action Plan, and must be banned, urge Ökopol and the European Environmental Bureau in a new policy briefing published today [1].

From clothes to electronics, toys, food and drugs, the careless practice of sending unsold products to waste plagues most sectors, as exposed by recent scandals across the EU [2]. Unsold or returned textiles and electronics are the most likely to be destroyed, and with the rise of e-commerce and business strategies such as fast fashion, the trend is set to worsen dramatically, the brief shows, unless the European Commission intervenes.
NGOs demand that a ban on the destruction of unsold goods, and incentives to keep the products on the market or promote donations instead of destruction, are included in the Commission’s Sustainable Products Initiative [3], to be published by the end of 2021 as part of the Circular Economy Action Plan.

Belgium, France and Germany have taken steps to address the destruction of unsold goods in their national legislation, but campaigners warn such initiatives must be upscaled at the single-market level in order to be effective.

Stéphane Arditi, Director of Circular Economy at the EEB, said: “This outrage cannot be solved at the national level, as long as products can be exported and destroyed elsewhere. The Commission must build on national solutions and ban the destruction of unsold goods at the EU level. We cannot afford to send perfectly viable products to waste while precious resources are depleted to make new ones”.

If all clothing and electronics shipments destroyed in Europe in 2020 were lined up one after the other, they would cover one and a half times the Earth’s circumference, as estimated by the policy brief, and such scale could rise up to 6 times the Earth’s circumference in 2030.

Projections show the value of destroyed electronics and clothing in the EU will amount to €21.74 billion by 2022, which is larger than the entire GDP of Cyprus for the year 2020. If no policy measures are taken, this could increase to up to €71.29 billion by 2030, as much as the revenue generated by the entire German e-commerce market in 2019.

The destruction of unsold goods comes at an extremely high cost for people and the environment, as it involves the pointless extraction and overconsumption of natural resources, CO2 emissions from resource extraction to product destruction, the emissions of hazardous substances during the production phase, as well as negative environmental impacts of waste treatment – all of this for products whose actual potential will never be realised.



Notes to the editor


Wasteful destruction of unsold goods must be banned, NGOs urge the EU
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