UK Government to Fast Fashion: It’s Time to Pay for ‘Throwaway Culture’

The UK government has unveiled a radical national waste prevention programme to tackle the climate impact of fast fashion.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) plans for the government and industries to “take action” across seven key sectors to reduce fashion waste. These include textiles, plastics, and packaging. Plus, fashion industry stakeholders will be sounded out on the possibility of an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme.

Forming part of a wider waste-prevention consultation for England, clothing and textiles manufacturers could be forced to pay more towards the costs of recycling their products. To support the growth of a circular fashion economy, a voluntary agreement, “Textiles 2030”, has been launched. Signatories commit to reducing their environmental footprints by 2030 – for example, a 30% reduction in water usage – as well as  the implementation of circular textile plans.

By setting minimum requirements for clothing and labelling to ensure an item’s durability, recyclability, and recycled content, the government will implement standards where the fast fashion industry does not. Plus, £30 million has been set aside to fund five new research centres to develop UK-based circular supply chains.

Landmark Laws

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said in a statement, “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. 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 design.”

Most significant is the proposed EPR scheme. Here, the environmental cost of producing textile products will be added to the item’s market price. Plus, it encourages fast fashion producers to use resources more efficiently, and design and manufacture products for optimum life. According to Rebecca Morter, founder and CEO of Lone Design Club, ”This feels like the most considerable institutional effort since the 2015 Modern Slavery Act was enforced, which was groundbreaking at incorporating accountability. It is great to see new research and innovation facilities being set-up to develop circular-based supply chains.”

3.5 Tonnes of Upcycled Trash Walked the Runway at London Fashion Week
Image: Marco Mori Photography/Vanish

Fashion not “Trashion”

The fashion industry is estimated to account for 4% of annual global carbon emissions.  The Clean Clothes 2019 campaign research showed that one in three fast fashion items ended up in UK landfill. The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) 2017 estimated this as £140 million worth of used clothing. Last year, WRAP’s Sustainable Clothing Action – a campaign which included the government and retail giants Marks and Spencer, Asos and Next – successfully highlighted the need for industry-wide input and collaboration. 

Marcus Gover, chief executive of WRAP, supports the government’s proposals. “WRAP welcomes the focus this consultation brings on the need to create a more circular economy. We will not achieve net-zero without taking action on the way we produce, use and dispose of the products we rely on to live our lives.” He also believes the onus of recycling should be on fast fashion producers, “When we throw things away, we waste all the carbon, water, materials and labour that have gone into making them. Our new Textiles 2030 business collaboration commitment exemplifies the ambition of COP26 and will halve the impact of textiles sold in the UK by 2030.”

Find out more about top luxury designers’ sustainable fashion initiative here.

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