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UK government to support sustainable fashion in Waste Prevention Programme

Image credit: Wei Huang/Dreamstime

The UK government has unveiled plans to reduce waste across multiple sectors. Such plans include proposals for measures that will ramp up action on fast fashion production and hold manufacturers accountable for textile waste.

The UK government has unveiled plans to reduce waste, which include proposals for measures that will ramp up action on fast fashion production and hold manufacturers accountable for textile waste.

The plans form part of a new wide-ranging Waste Prevention Programme for England, which sets out how the government and industry can take action across seven key sectors – construction; textiles; furniture; electrical products; road vehicles; packaging, plastics and single-use items; and food – to minimise waste and work towards a more resource-efficient economy.

Building on the Resources & Waste Strategy, the government said they will consult stakeholders by the end of 2022 on options for textiles. For example, its Extended Producer Responsibility scheme would ensure the industry contributes to the costs of recycling, supported by measures to encourage better design and labelling. This will help to boost the reuse and recycling of textiles and reduce the environmental footprint of the sector.

Experts have estimated the fashion industry to account for 4 per cent of annual global carbon emissions, while textiles production leads to greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the emissions of France, Germany, and the UK.

Consumers buy and throw away increasing amounts of fabrics, with the purchase of clothing rising by almost 20 per cent between 2012 and 2016, and around 921,000 tonnes of used textiles disposed of in household waste each year, according to experts.

The government believes that a producer responsibility scheme for the textiles industry could boost reused garments, better collections, and recycling, drive the use of sustainable fibres, and support sustainable business models such as rental schemes.

“We are firmly committed to ending the ‘throwaway’ culture as we build back greener. Major retailers and fashion brands have made strides in reducing their environmental footprint, but there is more we must do,” said environment minister Rebecca Pow. That is why, through our world-leading Environment Bill and landmark reforms, we will take steps to tackle fast fashion by incentivising recycling and encouraging innovation in new designs.”

The UK textiles industry has already made progress in this, led by the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan, a voluntary agreement coordinated by WRAP. Signatories – which include major fashion retailers such as Marks & Spencer, ASOS and Next – have collectively reduced their water and carbon footprint per tonne of clothing by 19.5 per cent and 15.9 per cent respectively between 2012 and 2019.

The government also aims to galvanise ambitious industry action through a new voluntary agreement – Textiles 2030 – for the next 10 years, which will aim to reduce the environmental footprint of the textiles sector through science-based targets.

The announcement forms part of a wider consultation launched today (18 March) which examines how the UK can move towards a more resource-efficient economy, not only by increasing recycling rates but reducing the amount of waste produced, to begin with.

The consultation on a revised Waste Prevention Programme for England seeks views on how the government can use new powers in the Environment Bill to set eco-design standards for sectors identified to have a high environmental impact, such as construction and furniture.

Such powers could set requirements on manufacturers, for instance, to provide spare parts, to set a minimum level of recycled content, or to ensure products are designed for disassembly, repair, and long life, rather than disposal.

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