A new WRAP report says a 12% reduction in the carbon impact of clothing has been negated by a 13% rise in the volume of textiles produced and sold.
WRAP’s Textiles 2030 Annual Progress Report shows that brands signed up to the environmental voluntary agreement have reduced the carbon impact of the textiles they produce by 12% and water by 4% on a per tonne basis between 2019 and 2022.
Global climate action NGO (non-governmental organisation) WRAP says the reductions were possible through actions taken to improve sustainability in design and manufacturing, and by increasing the amount of clothes reused and recycled.
However, WRAP has warned that these reductions are being cancelled out because of a 13% increase in the volume of textiles produced and sold. WRAP says increased production has reduced the actual carbon reduction to just 2%.
Through Textiles 2030, twenty-six brands and retailers have committed to reducing carbon emissions, improving water stewardship and making the clothing and textiles sector more circular. Signatories include ASOS, ASDA, M&S, Frasers, Primark, and Dunelm, who have all pledged to slash the environmental impacts of their products.
According to WRAP’s report, the use of recycled polyester and polyamide is rising year-on-year, helping to reduce the number of products made of virgin materials, and there have been improvements in durability and design for recycling in the second full year of the voluntary agreement.
71% of cotton used by signatories now comes from improved sources, mainly through the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and Cotton Connect’s REEL Cotton Programme, WRAP says.
WRAP says its insights show that designing for longer life and increasing the use of recycled fibres could achieve greater savings and uptake of recycled fibres could reduce the total carbon footprint by 12% and water by 18% for signatories.
Data shows that while on a “per-tonne” basis water use fell by 4% by 2022, WRAP says, but was cancelled out by the 13% increase in textiles produced and sold since 2019. Higher production rates meant water use increased by 8%, totalling 3.1 billion m³, WRAP says.
We need sustainable design, sustainable business models, and more sustainable ways of buying and using clothes from more businesses.
Catherine David, Director of Behaviour Change and Business Programmes at WRAP, commented: “If we hope to get anywhere near achieving the critical goals of the Paris Agreement, we must get serious about textiles and everyone has a role to play.
“We need sustainable design, sustainable business models, and more sustainable ways of buying and using clothes from more businesses. But production is clearly the key issue, and the onus is on businesses to make preloved part of their portfolio, so it’s accessible, easy and fun.
“Through Textiles 2030, many brands and retailers are already taking action, but there is a long way to go, and many more businesses who need to join us on this journey.”
While WRAP says it is pleased with efforts made by signatories, it warns that production must “urgently be addressed” to meet its targets and keep the UK on course for its part in delivering the Paris Accord.
The NGO wants businesses to design clothes for a longer life that include more recycled content. This also includes adopting less water-intensive alternatives to conventional cotton, such as organic, regenerative, or recycled cotton.
A greater number of take-back schemes are operating in partnership with brands and retailers in the UK, which WRAP says has doubled the volumes of used textiles collected and sold for reuse or recycling between 2019 and 2022, now totalling 39,000 tonnes.
However, second-hand products make up just 9% of textiles placed on the market, according to WRAP. Alongside this, reuse and recycling signatories collected and handled 233,500 tonnes of used textiles, an increase of 8% since 2019.