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Tonnes burnt and burried: when will UK government fix fast fashion?

Fourth Element creates swimwear made from 78% recycled plastics, including discarded fishing nets.

A total of 300 000 tonnes of clothing is burned or landfill in the UK every year. MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) have suggested a charge of 1 pound for each garment is ‘urgently needed’ to raise £35 million a year for better clothing collection, sorting and processing.

Though this recommendation is widely supported by recyclers, the government is not following through. This week, the UK government announced it will not consider introducing a recycling fee for fashion items until 2025. Meanwhile, UK consumers buy more new clothing than any other European country, the EAC notes. And they purchase roughly twice as many clothes as consumers in Germany and Italy.

Only voluntary change

Recently, MPs recommended mandatory environmental targets for fashion retailers with a turnover above £36 million. However, the government has decided not to set mandatory targets. Instead, it is ‘encouraging the wider industry to take part in the voluntary Sustainable Clothing Action Plan’. So far, only 11 fashion retailers have signed up to this plan. It is interesting to note that Wrap, which runs the charity, has lost 80% of its government funding since 2010.

Another recommendation outlined in the EAC’s “Fixing Fast Fashion” report is to ban the incineration or landfilling unsold stock that can still be reused or recycled. Big brands like Burberry are known to get rid of their products like this rather than sell them at a reduced price. However, the government is not taking any actions to stop this practice.

Industry is ‘disappointed’

The Textile Recycling Association (TRA) is ‘disappointed’ that the government has not committed going beyond what they have already pledged to do in the Resources and Waste Strategy. ‘Only last week we welcomed the news that the government had opened up invitations to apply to a multi-million pound fund to help boost the recycling of textiles and plastics in England,’ notes TRA’s director Alan Wheeler. ‘But this latest response may cause some to question their commitment to tackling the major issues that the fashion industry poses.’

Wheeler points out that the fashion industry is responsible for about 10% of all global CO2 emissions. ‘This staggering figure is more than the entire international aviation and maritime industry put together,’ he underlines.

1 pound bikini

‘Whilst voluntary initiatives will have an important role to play, this has to be backed up with some level of regulatory intervention,’ Wheeler suggests. ‘Without this, any business that tries to go out on a limb and only put sustainable clothing and textile products on the market, will only be undercut by those businesses that have no concern for the environment.’

According to the TRA, this has been graphically highlighted by online retailer Missguided who launched a £1 bikini last week.

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