19 February 2019 by Joshua Doherty

MPs call for investment in clothing recycling

VIDEO REPORT: The Environmental Audit Committee has released the final report in its inquiry into sustainability in the fashion industry, calling on the government to implement extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation in the sector.

The cross-party group recommended that the government introduce a one-penny-per-garment charge on new clothing items, which it is claimed would raise £35 million for “investment in clothing collection points, sorting and recycling”.

Below is a report from the launch event of the report, which was held at Chris Carey Collections in Kent. 

Voluntary approach

This would be overseen by a newly created industry council, with businesses in the sector having a say on how it is run.

Other measures set out in the report include setting mandatory targets for fashion retailers with a turnover above £36 million, lowering VAT on repair services and to use the tax system to “shift the balance of incentives in favour of reuse, repair and recycling”.

Commenting on the release of the report, the chair of Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh said: “In the UK we buy more clothes per person than any other country in Europe. ‘Fast fashion’ means we overconsume and under use clothes. As a result, we get rid of over a million tonnes of clothes, with £140m worth going to landfill, every year.”

Mrs Creagh 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 government must act to end the era of throwaway fashion by incentivising companies that offer sustainable designs and repair services.”

Today’s report called on the government to introduce a one penny per garment charge on fashion producers, along with many other recommendations

The report added the voluntary approach in the sector has “failed”, with any improvements in sustainability outweighed by the increase in volumes being sold.

It also said that it hopes charges will encourage producers to make clothes that last longer, stating that “increasing a garment’s lifetime is one of the most effective means of reducing its environmental footprint.”

Statistics in the report added that around 300,000 tonnes of clothing ends up in household bins every year with around 80% of this incinerated and 20% sent to landfill.

“The government should offer incentives for design for recycling, design for disassembly and design for durability,” the report said.

EAC’s key recommendations:

  • Mandatory environmental targets for fashion retailers with a turnover above £36 million.
  • A new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme to reduce textile waste with a one penny charge per garment on producers.
  • The scheme should reward fashion companies that design products with lower environmental impacts and penalise those that do not.
  • The report calls on the government to use the tax system to shift the balance of incentives in favour of reuse, repair and recycling to support responsible fashion companies.
  • The government should follow Sweden’s lead and reduce VAT on repair services.
  • Lessons on designing, creating, mending and repairing clothes should be in the school curriculum.

Recyclers

Speaking to letsrecycle.com at the launch of the report yesterday (18 February), Alison Carey of Chris Carey Collections discussed some of the impacts of the recommendations.

The report highlighted the impact that ‘fast fashion’ is having on the textile recycling industry

“We’ve seen the volumes coming in increasing, and with that the quality of the material is decreasing. With re-use being the primary end result for textiles, this leaves us in a difficult situation. If the material isn’t good enough quality for re-use, where do we send it?”

Ms Carey added: “[the 1P charge] will help us greatly, commercially it is a really difficult industry now to make money from. That would help us to be able to find alternative end markets, or other solutions to the problem, and ensure the material is being sent for another use and not energy from waste or landfill.”

End markets

Commenting from a wider textile recycling industry perspective, Alan Wheeler, director of the Textile Recycling Association, 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.”

Mr Wheeler added: “We welcomed the fact that Defra have already identified textiles as one of the key material streams for which an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme should be evaluated, but this report from the Environmental Audit Committee highlights why textiles should be considered urgently and we welcome the recommendation that this evaluation should be completed by 2022.”

The full report by the EAC can be read here.

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