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MPs say sustainability must be forced on fashion industry

consumer fashion

Compliance with WRAP’s Sustainable Clothing Action Plan should be compulsory for all large retailers because voluntary approaches to fashion industry sustainability have failed.

Those were among conclusions in a parliamentary report Fixing Fashion, which also called for a 1p levy on clothes sales to raise £35m towards improved collection and recycling.

MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) said adherence to the WRAP scheme should apply to all retailers with a turnover of more than £36m. The scheme, at present voluntary, encourages reduced use of resources in the clothing sector.

The report said that parts of the fashion industry had reduced carbon and water consumption, but “these improvements have been outweighed by the increased volumes of clothing being sold…a voluntary approach to improving the sustainability of the fashion industry is failing”, it noted, citing just 11 fashion retailers having signed up to WRAP’s plan.

The report said the 1p producer responsibility charge on each garment sold could raise £35m for investment in better clothing collection and recycling to cut the 300,000 tonnes of clothing discarded each year, of which around 80% was incinerated and 20% sent to landfill.

This could create new ‘green’ sorting jobs, particularly in areas where textile recycling is already a specialist industry such as West Yorkshire. Setting the charge at 5p per garment would raise almost £178m.

France introduced extended producer responsibility (EPR) for clothing in 2007 and collection rates have increased by more than half, the report said, to 3.2kg per person per year and more than 90% of items collected being reused or recycled.

The Textile Recycling Association welcomed the idea of the 1p levy. Director Alan Wheeler said: “We all need to take responsibility for our role in improving the sustainability of the fashion industry. But with existing markets for used clothing and recycled textiles under pressure, we need to develop new markets for used textiles.”

Wheeler said an EPR scheme should be “considered urgently” and include a rebate for clothing that is easier to recycle.

The EAC also said the Government should reform taxation to reward fashion companies that design products with lower environmental impacts, possibly by extending the proposed tax on virgin plastics to synthetic textile products to stimulate the market for recycled fibres in the UK.

Committee chair, Labour MP Mary Creagh, 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, chemicals and plastic pollution are all destroying our environment.”

”Fashion retailers must take responsibility for the clothes they produce. That means asking producers to consider and pay for the end-of-life process.”

She added: “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 EPR scheme.”

The report expressed concern about the lack of demand for recycled fibres, because opportunities to recycle textiles into high-value new products were limited by what was at present technically possible.

Mechanical recycling processes damage the original fibre and shorten its length, so limiting the market for recycled fibres.

“Demand from existing markets is low and hence the values that can be achieved for recycled textiles are low,” the report noted.

It said there had been attempts to increase the use of recycled polyester, but “most plastic recycling infrastructure is set up for PET bottles, and the technology for recycling old synthetic fabrics into new ones is in its infancy”.

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