Government unveils new Waste Prevention Programme for England

Plans to reduce waste have been unveiled on Global Recycling Day today (Thursday 18 March) – including proposals for new measures that government says will ‘ramp up’ action on ‘fast fashion’ and hold manufacturers accountable for textile waste.

The plans form part of a new Waste Prevention Programme for England which sets out how the Government and industry can take action across seven key sectors – construction; textiles; furniture; electrical and electronics products; road vehicles; packaging, plastics and single-use items; and food.

This includes steps to use resources more efficiently, design and manufacture products for optimum life and repair and reuse more items in an effort to move towards a more circular economy.

We are firmly committed to ending the ‘throwaway’ culture as we build back greener.

Building on the Resources & Waste Strategy, the Government will consult stakeholders on options for textiles such as an Extended Producer Responsibility by the end of 2022, supported by measures to encourage better design and labelling. This will set out to help to boost the reuse and recycling of textiles and reduce the environmental footprint of the sector.

The fashion industry is estimated to account for 4% of annual global carbon emissions, while textiles production leads to greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the emissions of France, Germany and the UK. We buy and throw away increasing amounts of fabrics, with the purchase of clothing rising by almost 20% between 2012 and 2016, and around 921,000 tonnes of used textiles disposed of in household waste each year.

A producer responsibility scheme for the textiles industry could boost reuse, better collections and recycling, drive the use of sustainable fibres, and support sustainable businesses models such as rental schemes.

Ending ‘throwaway’ culture

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “We are firmly committed to ending the ‘throwaway’ culture as we build back greener.

“Major retailers and fashion brands have made huge strides in reducing their environmental footprint but there is more we must do. That is why, through our world-leading Environment Bill and landmark reforms, we will take steps to tackle fast fashion by incentivising recycling and encouraging innovation in new design.”

Progress has been made by the textiles industry, led by the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan, a voluntary agreement coordinated by WRAP. Signatories – which include major fashion retailers such as M&S, ASOS and Next – collectively reduced their water and carbon footprint per tonne of clothing by 19.5% and 15.9% respectively between 2012 and 2019.

The Government aims to ‘galvanise’ ambitious industry action through a new voluntary agreement – Textiles 2030 – for the next 10 years, which will aim to reduce the environmental footprint of the textiles sector through science-based targets.

We will not achieve net zero without taking action on the way we produce, use and dispose of the products we rely on to live our lives.

Alongside this, using powers sought in the Environment Bill, the Government says it will be able to set minimum standards for clothing on durability and recycled content, and explore ways to improve labelling and consumer information of clothing.

£30 million has also been allocated by UK Research and Innovation to establish five new research centres that will develop UK-based circular supply chains, one of which will focus on circular textiles technology.

Marcus Gover, CEO of WRAP, said: “WRAP welcomes the focus this consultation brings on the need to create a more circular economy. We will not achieve net zero without taking action on the way we produce, use and dispose of the products we rely on to live our lives.

“When we throw things away, we waste all the carbon, water, materials and labour that have gone into making them. Our new Textiles 2030 business collaboration commitment exemplifies the ambition of COP26 and will halve the impact of textiles sold in the UK by 2030.  It follows on from the successful Sustainable Clothing Action Plan and will showcase businesses who are taking responsibility and reducing the impact of the products they put on the market. It launches in April, and many major UK brands and retailers are already signed up.”

Resource-efficient economy

The announcement forms part of a wider consultation launched today (18 March) which examines how the UK can move towards a more resource-efficient economy, not only by increasing recycling rates but reducing the amount of waste produced in the first place.

The consultation on a revised Waste Prevention Programme for England seeks views on how government can use new powers in the Environment Bill to set eco-design standards for sectors identified to have a high environmental impact, such as construction and furniture.

These powers could be used to set requirements on manufacturers, for instance, to provide spare parts, to set a minimum level of recycled content, or to ensure products are designed for disassembly, repair and long life, rather than disposal.

It comes a week after the Government announced it would introduce new requirements to tackle ‘premature obsolescence’ and help to ensure consumers are able to fix and extend the usable lifetimes of their appliances when they break, rather than throwing them away.

Pete Belk, Circular Economy Campaign Director at Business in the Community, said:

“We are excited to see Defra’s draft Waste Prevention Programme published today. Business in the Community members are increasingly looking for opportunities over and above recycling to reduce their resource use.

“We welcome the government’s focus on reuse, repair and remanufacturing in key sectors like textiles, construction and food. We want business to embrace the opportunities to avoid carbon, reduce material use and create green jobs by embracing the opportunities set out in the Waste Prevention Programme.”

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