Safety vs. Sustainability

I’ve just read this LA Times story on a new federal law that starts in a few days, requiring stores to either lead-test their children’s clothes and toys, or (if not tested) to assume the items are hazardous and then chuck them in the garbage.

The regulations include thrift store merchandise, which often serve as an alternative to the trash bin. The regulations apply to all items  on Feb. 10 regardless of their manufacture date – so stockpiles of untested merchandise would, overnight, be considered contraband.

In watching Sustainable Dave’s trash experiment, I learned that health and safety had to take priority over sustainable living. But it seems to me this law creates more waste than safety!

High levels of lead in children’s toys are a terrible danger. Toxins are no fun. I think we do need phthalate regulations. But it simply isn’t realistic to say that all old and untested clothing is so hazardous that it must be thrown out immediately. Let’s put the burden of testing on the manufacturers, not the retailers, so things won’t get made with toxins in the first place.

There’s still a lot of gray area around how this law will be enforced (it can’t be) and interpreted (which may lax restrictions a little, but not much).

My guess? There might be a way around the law for thrift stores (though not really so much for big retailers): thrift stores could keep their untested merchandise, and give it away, and request but not require a donation in return, so that the items aren’t technically “sold.”  It’s not a money-making move by any means, but it would keep merchandise from heading to the landfill…


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