Apparel manufacturers and retailers are worried about a proposed state law that would require some garments made of synthetic fabric to have a warning label.
The proposed law could complicate operations in a major industry in Los Angeles County – home to more than 2,000 apparel manufacturers that employ some 61,000 workers, about two-thirds of the statewide total – and undermine an already fragile regional market.
The law would require a warning label about possible adverse environmental effects related to synthetic microfibers, which can enter the water supply and impact marine life. The label would be required on any garments that are made of 50 percent or more synthetic fibers and sold in California.
The bill was introduced in Sacramento by California State Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, as part of an effort to curb marine pollution. It specifically targets plastic microfibers shed from clothing made from synthetic fabrics.
Proponents of the bill say the measure aims to provide information to the public on what they call the threat microfibers pose to water quality and marine life.
“Right now, it’s estimated that synthetic fibers are, by count, the single largest contributor to watershed plastic pollution in developed countries and account for a significant portion of plastic waste entering the ocean,” Bloom told the Business Journal.
Opposition from certain sectors of the business community isn’t in response to the environmental concerns but to the labeling requirement, which detractors said is overly onerous.
Two groups opposed to the bill are downtown-based nonprofit California Fashion Association and downtown-based BizFed, L.A. County Business Federation a coalition of more than 170 businesses in L.A. County.
“This is beyond nonsense, it is overreach,” said Ilse Metchek, CFA’s president. “We as an industry are working on environmental issues.”
Metchek said the local apparel industry has environmental concerns on its radar, but “this bill isn’t the answer.”
Sarah Wiltfong, policy manager at BizFed, added that the bill would harm retailers.
“We believe this will have an immensely negative impact on California retailers,” Wiltfong said. “This bill has very little justification and we don’t know how much of marine pollution actually comes from clothing.”
Wiltfong said that if the bill passes, thousands of businesses that make and sell clothes in the state will be impacted by having to bear a heavy logistical burden.
“Picture distribution problems,” Metchek said. “A manufacturer sends out 50,000 units of clothing to the country. The ones in California need to be pulled out for this tag? It is impossible.”
Both Wiltfong and Metchek say they aren’t opposed to working with Bloom’s office in addressing microfiber ocean pollution in some way other than his current proposal.
Bloom, meanwhile, is standing firm, calling his bill the most realistic approach.
“Right now, there isn’t the technology available to fully filter plastic microfibers out of our water and waste streams,” he said. “We should keep working with the clothing industry, washing machine manufacturers and even the waste jurisdictions to make that technology a reality but until then we need to stop the use of plastic based synthetic clothing as much as possible by changing consumer behavior.”
The bill would amount to an extra layer of logistics for apparel companies, according to Shawn Gold, corporate marketing officer for TechStyle Fashion Group, an e-commerce apparel manufacturer and retailer based in El Segundo.
“For us, like most clothing companies, it would change how we label clothing,” Gold said.
The effect would be more on the logistics than the financial side for TechStyle – owners of four brands including athleisure wear, Fabletics.
“Most clothing companies who sell nationally will not segment by state in their labeling,” Gold said.
Bloom is no stranger to efforts banning plastic pollution in the ocean. He was behind the banning of plastic microbeads – very small granules of synthetic material used in various personal care products – under a law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015. The ban on microbeads, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2020, helped pave the way for similar regulation on the national level.
Bloom, who supports the bill despite the potential logistics impact, said he hopes the proposed legislation helps change people’s shopping habits.
“Most consumers don’t realize that most synthetic clothing is a petroleum by-product and that they are in fact wearing plastic,” he said. “Alerting the consumer will hopefully encourage more environmentally sound purchasing behaviors like buying more natural fiber clothing,” he said.
Microfibers, a subcategory of microplastic, are shed from synthetic fabric when washed, the bill asserts.
A 2015 study by researchers at the University of California Davis study found about a quarter of the fish sampled from fish markets in California contained debris such as microplastics, among other materials. The study suggested a direct link between that type of marine pollution and fish on consumers’ dinner plates.
It stated that while the U.S. had highly advanced systems for collecting and recycling plastics, most Californians washed their clothing in washing machines, and it was possible that microplastic fiber shed by that process could slip into the ocean undetected.
The state bill, AB 2379, is trying to raise awareness about the issue in order to mitigate microfiber pollution. The legislation calls for clothing made of 50 percent or more of synthetic materials – polyester, nylon, spandex, among others – and sold in California to carry a tag or sticker that says: “This garment sheds plastic microfibers when washed, which contributes to marine plastic pollution.”
That’s according to the language of the bill as it stands today. Introduced in February, the bill cleared a committee review last month and is awaiting a date for a floor vote in the Assembly. It also would require passage in the California State Senate and a signature from the governor. If passed and signed by the governor, the law takes effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
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