The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) is calling on the Government to make fashion retailers take responsibility for the waste they create. A one penny producer responsibility charge on each item of clothing could pay for better clothing collection and recycling, it says.
The EAC report warns that although some parts of the fashion industry are making progress in reducing their carbon and water consumption, these improvements have been outweighed by the increased volumes of clothing being sold.
It concludes that a voluntary approach to improving the sustainability of the fashion industry is failing with just 10 fashion retailers signed up to reduce their water, waste and carbon footprints.
It recommends that compliance with WRAP’s Sustainability Clothing Action Plan targets should be made mandatory for all retailers with a turnover of more than £36 million as a ‘licence to practice’.
It is also recommended that Government work with retailers to increase use of digital supply chain technology for better traceability.
The MPs say that we need new economic models for fashion which are based on reducing the material consumption associated with growth. To drive improvements, the Government should reform taxation to reward fashion companies that design products with lower environmental impacts.
This could include extending the proposed tax on virgin plastics to synthetic textile products to stimulate the market for recycled fibres in the UK. The Committee also wants the new EPR scheme to accelerate research by Government and industry into the environmental performance of different materials and measures to reduce microfibre pollution.
The report also calls on Ministers to explore how they can support a new ’sharing economy’ – with hiring, swapping or subscription clothes services.
“In the UK we buy more clothes per person than any other country in Europe. ‘Fast fashion’ means we overconsume and under use clothes. As a result, we get rid of over a million tonnes of clothes, with £140m worth going to landfill, every year.”
Increasing a garment’s lifetime is one of the most effective means of reducing its environmental footprint. Around 300,000 tonnes of clothing ends up in household bins every year with around 80% of this incinerated and 20% sent to landfill.
A charge of one penny per garment producers as part of a new EPR scheme could raise £35 million for investment in better clothing collection and recycling in the UK, the EAC says. It recommends the Government offer incentives for design for recycling, design for disassembly and design for durability.
Following Burberry’s decision to incinerate unsold stock worth millions last year, the Committee is calling on the Government to ban incineration or landfilling of unsold stock that can be reused or recycled.
Environmental Audit Committee Chair Mary Creagh MP said: “Fashion shouldn’t cost the earth. Our insatiable appetite for clothes comes with a huge social and environmental price tag: carbon emissions, water use, chemical and plastic pollution are all destroying our environment.
“In the UK we buy more clothes per person than any other country in Europe. ‘Fast fashion’ means we overconsume and under use clothes. As a result, we get rid of over a million tonnes of clothes, with £140m worth going to landfill, every year.
“Fashion retailers must take responsibility for the clothes they produce. That means asking producers to consider and pay for the end of life process for their products through a new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme. The Government must act to end the era of throwaway fashion by incentivising companies that offer sustainable designs and repair services.
“Children should be taught the joy of making and mending clothes in school as an antidote to anxiety and the mental health crisis in teenagers. Consumers must play their part by buying less, mending, renting and sharing more.”
Committee’s key recommendations
- Mandatory environmental targets for fashion retailers with a turnover above £36 million
- A new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme to reduce textile waste with a one penny charge per garment on producers
- The scheme should reward fashion companies that design products with lower environmental impacts and penalise those that do not.
- The report calls on the Government to use the tax system to shift the balance of incentives in favour of reuse, repair and recycling to support responsible fashion companies.
- The Government should follow Sweden’s lead and reduce VAT on repair services.
- Lessons on designing, creating, mending and repairing clothes should be in the school curriculum
- The Government should publish a publicly accessible list of retailers required to release a modern slavery statement. This should be supported by an appropriate penalty for those companies who fail to report and comply with the Modern Slavery Act.
- The fashion industry must come together to set out their blueprint for a net zero emissions world, reducing their carbon consumption back to 1990 levels.
- Sustainable clothing: “voluntary approach has failed”