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WRAP claims progress on clothing sustainability

Clothing companies that back the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) have outperformed the rest of the sector over carbon, water and waste targets – but the industry’s overall carbon footprint continues to grow, according to WRAP.

The charity has produced a report on the environmental impact of the UK clothing industry with SCAP signatories. Valuing Our Clothes: the cost of UK fashion, is an update of its 2012 assessment that spawned the voluntary 2020 target agreements.

Progress on the targets per tonne of clothing sold by SCAP signatories, which now account for 60% of the sector, is:

  • Water use: 13.5% reduction (2020 target 15%)
  • Carbon: 10.6% reduction (target 15%)
  • Waste: 0.8% saving (target 3.5%)

Even so, the industy’s carbon footprint has risen by the equivalent of two million tonnes of CO2 in the past five years to more than 26 million tonnes, because more clothes are being bought, and many of them at cheaper prices.

Clothing in household residual waste since 2012 has decreased by 50,000 tonnes to 300,000 tonnes (31% down to 25%).

Bruce Bratley, chief executive of First Mile, said the amount still being disposed of in this way was “shocking”.

“Brands need to focus on making clothes that will last rather than disposable pieces created for a season. Beyond this, it needs to be easier for consumers to recycle their clothes, and the industry must play its part in education and innovation to ensure clothes can be and are recycled.”

The next few years are critical in balancing growing demand with supplying clothes more sustainably

Steve Creed, WRAP

Trewin Restorick, chief executive of the Hubbub environmental charity, told the Guardian: “It is encouraging that the amount of clothing being landfilled is decreasing, but research suggests this may be because people are hoarding more at home. Overall sales of clothing is increasing, and the UK needs to jump off the fast fashion treadmill to find a truly sustainable approach.”

Steve Creed, director of business programmes at WRAP, welcomed the efforts of the SCAP signatories.

“They are not only well on the way to achieving the targets, but continue to outperform the sector as a whole, particularly in sustainable cotton. It is amazing that 20% more cotton is now sourced sustainably by the signatories than when we began. Having high street names such as M&S, Tesco and Sainsbury’s setting ambitious sustainable cotton targets will help to ease the pressure on some of the world’s most water-sensitive countries.”

On the bigger carbon footprint, Creed said: “The next few years are critical in balancing this growing demand with supplying clothes more sustainably. I’m confident that the SCAP will play a big part in helping to make this happen and make sustainable fashion much more mainstream.”

WRAP wants retailers and brands to focus on those high-selling garments identified as having the highest environmental costs in manufacture: women’s dresses, jumpers and jeans, men’s t-shirts and jumpers.

Women’s jeans were singled out in terms of the amount of water used during their production, while dresses, jumpers and men’s t-shirts are similarly high-volume products which require work to tackle their carbon footprint and supply chain waste. 

The report has identified a trend within the home for people to launder their clothes at lower temperatures with a declining use of tumble dryers and irons.

In June, WRAP produced a Sustainable Clothing Guide to share best practice on how to design, produce and sell sustainable clothing.

SCAP was started by Defra in 2009 and responsibility was transferred to WRAP in 2011.

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