The Big Issue of Microfibers in AB 2379

Legal

As of Friday, March 2, 2018

Last month, state Assembly member Richard Bloom introduced Assembly Bill 2379 to the California State Legislature. The bill would require manufacturers of clothing that comprises more than 50 percent polyester to include a label recommending consumers bypass the washing machine and handwash these items instead.

It is Bloom’s hope that spelling out these instructions will lead to increased consumer awareness of the potential environmental threats he says occur from synthetic microfiber shedding.

“Some of the [bill] advocates think that we should be moving toward more draconian solutions, like banning synthetic clothing. Those would have greater consequences that don’t make sense,” said the Democrat, whose district office is headquartered in Santa Monica. “We need to become more aware, continue the research and take reasonable steps to reduce the amount of microfibers in our aquifers and go where the research takes us.”

The bill’s co-sponsors also cited their beliefs that AB 2379 would provide greater environmental protection by advising consumers regarding a different approach to caring for clothing manufactured with this synthetic material.

“I decided to co-author AB 2379 because it is a simple labeling measure that brings attention to the fact that polyester clothing sheds more polluting microfibers when machine washed,” said Assembly member Mark Stone, a Democrat representing Monterey, in a statement.

Noting a need to compensate for recent federal government rollbacks on policies that promote conservation and sustainability, Democratic Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher of San Diego explained she views the bill as an opportunity.

“We need to take reasonable, proactive steps to protect the environment, especially given the Trump administration’s utter indifference to the health of our planet,” she said in a statement. “People need to know what steps they can take, both large and small, to help make the earth a cleaner place.”

Though the Assembly members said that the proposed legislation provides a solution to decreasing synthetic microfibers that could potentially be consumed by marine life and enter regional water supplies, opponents of the bill aren’t convinced that it is the appropriate answer.

Referencing existing federal government regulations for care instructions on clothing labels, Elise Shibles, a trade attorney with law firm Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, outlines a few of the many problems that she feels would arise with the passage of AB 2379, some of which would create greater amounts of waste.

“The labeling language proposed by this bill would, in most cases, be contrary to that required by federal labeling,” she said. “Further, the authors of the bill appear to have failed to consider apparel that might be damaged by handwashing, such as those for which dry cleaning is recommended. In that case, manufacturers would be in the untenable position of having to instruct their customers to do something knowingly damaging to their garments.”

As the American Apparel & Footwear Association executive vice president and Washington International Trade Association president, Stephen Lamar has been contacted by members who now worry that the supporters of this proposed solution have not clearly defined the connection between the issue and their businesses.

“It’s raised a lot of concerns of our members on an issue that doesn’t have the settled cause and effect of several relationships that the legislation purports to make,” he noted. “The remedy is a label on a garment that goes against a lot of industry knowledge. It goes against the federal rules. The idea of adding a label that singles out one particular garment seems a bit extreme.”

While some clothing manufacturers might be worried about the bill becoming law, others don’t foresee a major threat to business, as the legislation appeals to a particular type of consumer.

“We feel like it will have a marginal effect. Most customers who buy polyester products are cost sensitive and this label will most likely not deter them from buying the product,” explained Texollini Chief Information Officer Dmitry Konstantinovsky. “For consumers who are highly into sustainable products, they will most likely be the ones to really take this bill into effect.”

The potential legal threats to manufacturers have also become a concern of the organizations that aim to protect apparel-industry companies.

“This could be fundamentally as problematic as Proposition 65—a boon to class-action lawsuits. Here is another situation that you’re supposed to tag something in the public domain,” said Ilse Metchek, president of the California Fashion Association. “And it’s only in California. In a nutshell—that is your problem.”

While the industry must be prepared for consumer backlash or added costs and restrictions that might result from this bill’s passage, Bloom sought to reassure those who work in the apparel industry that there is no intention of elevating this matter to a level where class-action lawsuits would be possible.

“In a recent publication, the California Fashion Association suggests this legislation is just an opportunity for class-action lawsuits to be filed,” he said. “This legislation does not provide for a private right of action in any form.”

The bill was introduced on Feb.14 and is currently pending committee referral. It will not be eligible to be heard until March 17. During the early stages of considering how AB 2379 could influence the labeling processes for polyester goods, there are many voices who want to see a bit more thought applied to developing solutions that benefit the greater good.

“I am a big supporter of environmental efforts but within reason,” explained Lonnie Kane, co-owner of Los Angeles apparel brand Karen Kane. “It has to have some consideration for human actions and the norms of everyday life. This one seems like they haven’t thought it through. How you implement it and what it consists of, is the effort worth the results?”