After I published yesterday’s post touching on the environmental impact of clothing waste, it was announced that the UK Government had rejected recommendations to make the fashion industry more eco-friendly and curb the culture of throwaway clothes. The recommendations had been put forward by the UK Parliament’s cross-party Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) in its February 2019 report on clothing consumption and sustainability.
The EAC’s report contained some pretty compelling facts about why our clothing culture needs to change. For example:
- The textile industry contributes more to climate change that international aviation and shipping combined.
- Shoppers in the UK buy more clothes per person than any other country in Europe. A glut of their second hand clothes has swamped the market for used textiles.
- Around 300,000 tons of textile waste is thrown in UK household trash bins every years, thereafter landing up in landfills or incinerators.
- Less than 1% of material used to produce clothing is recycled at the end of its life.
- Clothing retailers regularly burn new unsold stock to preserve their brand.
The EAC report laments what I too have noticed (and one of the driving forces behind my year of nothing): We have a culture of throwaway clothing in which clothes are made and marketed to be worn one season and thrown away the next. As the EAC says, “Often it is more expensive to repair an item than to buy a new one. Many of us lack the skills to perform more than basic clothing repairs.” With the focus on cheap manufacturing and quick turnover, it is nearly impossible for makers of eco-friendly clothing to compete with producers of ‘fast fashion’. This must change.
The EAC report contained concrete recommendations for holding the fashion industry accountable, but the Government’s response yesterday was essentially that it would not consider the recommendations now but would review and consult on some of them by 2025. The EAC’s recommendations included:
- Tax incentives to reward fashion companies that design products with low environmental impacts and penalize those that do not. This would be similar to a tax on virgin plastics already scheduled to come into effect in the UK in 2022.
- A one penny charge per garment on producers in order to raise money (estimated around £35 million per year) to invest in better clothing collection and sorting in the UK. As I noted in my post yesterday, the options for textile recycling in my area of London are currently limited and inconvenient, which makes them unlikely to be used by the majority of clothes buyers.
- A ban on the incineration or landfilling of unsold clothing stock that can be reused or recycled.
- A reduction on VAT for repair services to encourage fixing rather than trashing garments.
- Environmental targets for large retailers. (with over £36 million in turnover).
The EAC also made recommendations to address poor working conditions in the textile industry.
The UK Government claims that it is not rejecting these ideas outright but that it was already looking at ideas to deal with some of these issues. Government ministers reportedly prefer voluntary schemes in which fashion industry participants choose to participate rather than mandatory taxes and bans. For example, the Government said it would encourage the industry to participate in the voluntary Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (Scap), which is run by a recycling charity, Wrap. However, only 11 retailers have signed up to Scap, and Wrap has lost 80% of its funding since 2010 .
Unfortunately, unless we the consumers put more pressure on retailers and policymakers to make fashion sustainable rather than cheap, it is difficult to see them taking serious action. In a recent Drapers survey of 370 fashion brands, retailers and suppliers, 60% said the main bar to becoming more sustainable was that it drives up costs. 85% said that the government was not doing enough to help the fashion industry become more sustainable. 69% said they supported the 1p garment charge to raise money for textile recycling efforts. But of course industry can’t expect government and taxpayers to do all the work. All of us – consumers, industry and policymakers – need to rethink our clothing culture.
Want to make your engagement with clothing more sustainable? Check out LOVE YOUR CLOTHES here to find some ideas on getting started.
The EAC’s full report, as well as its comment on the Government’s response, can be downloaded here.
The BBC also covers “The story behind your clothes’ here.