More clothing ending up in landfill, report finds

More items of clothing are being disposed of in the residual bin, meaning more end up in landfill or incineration, according to a new report by WRAP.

The latest data from Sustainable Clothing Action Plan 2020 (SCAP 2020) commitment signatories, published today (19 Dec), show that improvements in design and manufacture continue to have a positive effect in making our clothes in a more sustainable fashion.

However, WRAP’s Textiles Market Situation Reportalso shows that more items are being disposed of in the residual bin, meaning more end up in landfill or incineration.

SCAP 2020, managed by WRAP, unites brands and retail signatories with the charity sector and recyclers to tackle the environmental costs of clothing. The latest progress report shows continued improvements compared with the 2012 baseline across carbon, water and waste reduction.

But today’s results also highlight that more work is required, by many more businesses outside of SCAP 2020, to keep pace with the UK’s love of clothes as we buy more than ever.

With one year of SCAP 2020 remaining, data from participating companies show the following achievements:

  • Water – the water target has been achieved ahead of 2020, with a reduction of more than 18% against the 15% target. Cotton sourced from Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) suppliers being a large contributor.
  • Carbon – at the current rate of progress (13.4% improvement), WRAP is confident that the 15% target for reduction in carbon will also be met. This is due to several factors including changes in the proportions of different fibres used, and increased use of sustainable forms of cotton.

Peter Maddox, Director WRAP “I am delighted by the improvements SCAP signatories have made in carbon and water, which continue to outperform other initiatives, but waste and influencing consumer behaviour remain more challenging.

The next few years will be an interesting time for the sector. As well as the economic context and trends in fashion, we have EU exit, changes in government following the General Election and increased sector scrutiny that may all shape the future for UK fashion.

“The next few years will be an interesting time for the sector. As well as the economic context and trends in fashion, we have EU exit, changes in government following the General Election and increased sector scrutiny that may all shape the future for UK fashion.

“SCAP is well placed to help British businesses stay on trend, and react to the demand for more sustainably produced clothes. I am delighted that the SCAP Footprint Calculator has become such a key resource for many of the UK’s biggest names; helping brands to focus their improvement actions and demonstrate their progress.”

While excellent results continue against the water and carbon targets, waste remains a harder area for signatories to influence.

Whole chain waste – reduction continues at a slower pace with a 1.4% improvement against baseline. Supply chain transparency is improving and several SCAP retailers have mapped their supply chains. However, more work is needed, and WRAP is working with signatories to try to improve this – but believes it is unlikely the 3.5% target will be met by December 2020.

Product waste at end of lifecycle – WRAP’s previous estimate of clothing disposed of in the residual waste stream (2015 data) showed a decrease of 50,000 tonnes (14%) against the 2012 baseline. The most recent data (2017) shows that this has changed, with the reduction now at 4% against the baseline.

This is detailed in WRAP’s Textiles Market Situation Reportwhich examines the flow of textiles around the economy. This found that total clothing sent to landfill or incineration rose by 10% (300,000 to 336,000 tonnes) between 2015-2017, although the total remains lower than the baseline (350,000 tonnes).

Clothing consumption

The reasons for this rise include population growth, rising consumption levels, lack of collection infrastructure and how long we actually keep clothes.

WRAP notes that clothing consumption increased in 2014, and estimates that people keep items on average for three years meaning spikes in disposal appear several years later.

WRAP also found spending on clothing increased year on year, but at a rate that has slowed recently, with the UK spending around £60.5 billion on clothes per annum.

While the total for residual waste disposal has increased, when expressed on a per capita basis the amount per head of the population has actually decreased over time and is now around 8% lower, per capita, compared to 2012 levels.

This currently stands at 5kg/capita in 2017 compared to 5.5kg/capita in 2012 and WRAP believes the recent rise in the total quantity going to landfill/incineration is a fluctuation in a pattern that has otherwise shown a sustained reduction.

Donation Generation

Shoppers do use other channels to discard of their unwanted clothing such as charity shops and collection banks, and private exchange and sales.

In total, an estimated 620,000 tonnes of textiles were collected for re-use and recycling in 2018; an increase on the 600,000 tonnes collected the year before.

Most was destined for the re-use market with 32% re-used in the UK (charity shops) and around 60% exported.

But a significant proportion of clothes remain in limbo, unworn and unseen in the nation’s wardrobes and WRAP wants to encourage more people to donate their unworn items.

Peter Maddox, “We need to focus on ways to keep these valuable materials in the economy when we’ve finished with them. Clothing has the fourth largest environmental impact after housing, transport and food and yet every year nearly one million tonnes of textiles are burnt or buried in the UK.

This is such a waste when virgin resources are under pressure, often in countries with severe water stress. With investment and leadership, the UK could be well placed to exploit the potential for increased fibre-2-fibre recycling of post-consumer textiles, and create new feedstock from our old clothes.”

In January 2020, WRAP will run an awareness-raising campaign to inspire more people to donate their unwanted clothes. Love Your Clothes Donation Generation campaign will highlight the variety of ways clothes can easily be donated, and the array of items that can be passed on. It will encourage people of all ages to pledge to donate, and showcase people passing on their pre-loved items across social media via #DonationGeneration.

The campaign will encourage people to make use of their local charity shops and use the Love Your Clothes Recycling Locatorto find their nearest donation bank. It will give details of the collection bag schemes organised by a growing number of charities such as the British Heart Foundationthat collect from your door.

And detail the growing number of drop-off points in high-street stores, such as the brand F&Fthat is trialling collection points at eighty Tesco stores. And the increasingly popular online postal schemes, such as the reGAIN app, which offer vouchers in return for donated clothing.

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