BANBURY – New data published by WRAP’s Sustainable Clothing Action Plan 2020 (SCAP 2020) reflects on the progress its signatories have made to date, finding that whilst targets to reduce water and cut carbon emissions are on track, clothing overconsumption and the subsequent waste landfilled remains problematic and has increased over recent years.
The UK’s environment minister Rebecca Pow admits: “There’s much more to do, in particular, reducing the amount of clothing that goes to landfill. That’s why this government is committed to protecting the environment and tackling climate change by cutting waste and using resources more sustainably.”
SCAP 2020, which counts fashion heavyweights ASOS, Primark, Marks & Spencer and Arcadia Group amongst its signatories, has had some success as it looks ahead to the deadline next year.
In the areas of water and carbon, it’s said committed companies have aligned well to firstly exceed the anticipated 15 per cent reduction of water asked of them by next year. At present, 18 per cent of water has been cut from operations, a large contributor to which being cotton sourced from Better Cotton initiative (BCI) suppliers, it’s reported.
In relation to its carbon emissions ambition, which is based on a core target of 15 per cent reductions, signatory firms have registered a 13.4 per cent improvement which is expected to pass the 15 per cent threshold soon. This is due to several factors including changes in the proportions of different fibres used, and increased use of sustainable forms of cotton.
“I am delighted by the improvements SCAP signatories have made in carbon and water, but waste and influencing consumer behaviour remain more challenging,” noted WRAP’s director Peter Maddox. “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 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,” he continued.
That said, whilst appetite for sustainable fashion alternatives, so does demand for fast fashion items, suggests WRAP’s Textiles Market Situation Report. It’s said that WRAP’s previous estimate of clothing disposed of in the residual waste stream (2015 data) showed a decrease of 50,000 tonnes (14 per cent) against the 2012 baseline. The most recent data (2017) shows that this has changed, with the reduction now at 4 per cent against the baseline.
This, in turn, has projected volumes of apparel either sent to landfill or incinerated radically, with an additional 300,000 to 336,000 tonnes disposed of between 2015-17. That said, this total remains below a 2012 baseline of 350,000 tonnes.
Reasons for this recent rise are said to include population growth, rising consumption levels and a lack of collection infrastructure that could adequately dispose of unwanted apparel in a sustainable way.
That said, whilst waste to landfill has grown over recent years, so too has the use of charity shops and resale channels. 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 per cent re-used in the UK (charity shops) and around 60 per cent exported.
“We need to focus on ways to keep these valuable materials in the economy when we’ve finished with them,” Maddox said. “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.
In January, WRAP will run an awareness-raising campaign to inspire more people to donate their unwanted clothes. The Love Your Clothes Donation Generation campaign will highlight the variety of ways clothes can be donated and encourages people of all ages to pledge and support the initiative.