Throughout the life cycle of textiles wastage occurs in the form of material
off cuts, unwanted returns, or items a consumer no longer wants. And of all textiles
produced, clothing accounts for around 60% of textile waste.
Last year 235 million items of clothing were sent to landfill, only 13% of unwanted
clothes were recycled and less than 1% of post-production and post-consumer clothing
items were recycled back into new clothing. The estimated cost, when combined with
all other textiles, was around £82 million!
Due to the visible nature of this waste stream the industry is aware of the scale
of the problem, which has led to the emergence of various commitments to reduce
However, a “new” waste problem has recently emerged in the form of microfibres.
These are tiny particles that are released into our water supplies every time clothes
are washed. Studies have found there are
16 times more microfibres in our water supplies than microbeads, which is contributing
to ocean pollution. Microfibres found in freshwater crustaceans are found to
cause more damage than microbeads!
Companies such as Patagonia and The North Face are looking into new clothing
tests to help identify the amount of microfibres released during washing; however,
these tests are in early development stages and currently there is no international
intention to produce a standard for all textile producers to meet.
This is certainly needed, as Ellen MacArthur Foundation (“New Textiles Economy’s
2050”) report projections highlight that, if nothing changes, clothing sales will
more than triple from 2015 to 2050. Consequently, the environmental impact will
be even greater, with 22 million tonnes of microfibres released into the oceans
during this time. Textile production of this scale would account for 26% of the
world carbon budget, when following the
Agency’s 2°C pathway.
What's happening globally?
Several goals and targets are now in place, which can help the fashion industry
produce more sustainable products. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide
businesses with a range of targets across a number of areas to cover equality and
social impacts as well as environmental.
The key environmental SDG goals are as follows:
||3 & 6
||Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and
sanitation for all
Both targets look to address impact on waterways, pollution prevention and
restoration of water-related environments. Clothing has a large impact on
water ecosystems at all stages of their life cycle.
||Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient
Target six aims to reduce the impact cities have on the environment with
waste management being one focus.
||Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
This target focuses on a consumer’s right to be informed of sustainable
development issues. Few retailers look to improve consumer knowledge of
the impact their purchases have on the environment.
||Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
This goal aims to reduce impact on climate change. The textiles industry
currently produces more greenhouse gases
emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined
(12 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent).
||Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources
for sustainable development
Looks to address the impact on marine environments and prevent pollution.
Microfibres will be a focus for the fashion industry
In 2017 the Ellen MacArthur Foundation produced a detailed
on how the fashion industry can systemically change from the current linear model
to a circular model. It recommends four key stages:
1. Phase out substances of concern and microfibre release
2. Increase clothing utilisation
3. Radically improve recycling
4. Make effective use of resources and move to renewable inputs
Each stage provides clear actions that organisations can implement to ensure
sustainable growth. These actions align with the UN’s SDGs; therefore, making it
easier for companies that have already committed to these goals to meet Corporate
Social Responsibility (CSR) objectives.
What’s happening in the UK?
Clothing Action Plan (SCAP), led by WRAP, is a voluntary group of clothing companies
that are working to reduce their carbon, water and waste impacts.
Members currently include M&S, Primark, Next and ASOS, and SCAP’s latest report
outlines how signatories have reduced carbon by 10.6%, water by 13.5%, waste to
landfill by 14% and waste across the product life cycle by 0.8%. Although progress
in terms of meeting the targets looks good, it is unlikely, without significant
change in activity, that the reduction of waste throughout the life cycle target
will be met.
The Environmental Audit Committee started their investigation into the fashion
industry’s social and environmental impact in June 2018, and the
findings and recommendations of this work have been published this week.
They recognise that voluntary schemes haven’t yet achieved enough of an impact on
waste and that many in the industry have not contributed at all. This isn’t to say
that the few companies involved haven’t made progress.
The two main recommendations are to impose a 1p tax per garment under extended
producer responsibility and for the government to consider linking the proposed
recycled content plastic tax with the clothing industry, to increase the demand
for recycled fibres. These are well timed with the government consulting on the
plastic tax, also released this week, and the Resources & Waste Strategy, which
was released December 2018, that commits to investigate a textile extended producer
In my next blog I will go one step further and will outline ways individual business
can reduce their impact while helping consumers. If you are looking for immediate
support, please contact one of our experts today:
03450 682 572