Ministers have rejected calls by MPs to tackle the environmental impact of ‘fast’ fashion, despite widespread support from within the fashion industry.
Earlier this year in its report Fixing Fashion, the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) suggested – among other ideas – introducing a 1p charge on garments for brands and retailers, saying it would raise £35m for better recycling of used clothing.
However, in its response to the report published today, the government failed to commit to introducing the charge, saying that consultation on the measure could run as late as 2025. It also rejected many of MPs’ other suggestions.
The EAC has slammed the government for its response, calling it ‘out of step’ with the public mood on the scale of the problem.
EAC chair Mary Creagh MP said: ‘Fashion producers should be forced to clear up the mountains of waste they create. The government has rejected our call, demonstrating that it is content to tolerate practices that trash the environment and exploit workers despite having just committed to net zero emission targets.
‘Urgent action must be taken to change the fast fashion business model which produces cheap clothes that cost the earth.’
The EAC’s report earlier this year found that the UK buys new clothes than any other European country, with estimates saying that 1,130,000 tonnes of clothing were purchased here in 2016.
It also found that textile production produces more carbon emissions than international flights and maritime shipping combined, consumes huge amounts of fresh water and plays a key part in creating microplastic pollution.
While the EAC proposed a ban on incinerating or landfilling unsold clothes that can be used or recycled, the government rejected this call, saying that it believes that ‘positive approaches are required’ to find outlets for waste textiles rather than a simple ban.
The EAC also recommended introducing mandatory environmental targets for fashion retailers with turnover over £36m and rewarding companies that design products with lower environmental impacts.
However, the government has said it will encourage retailers to join the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP), the industry-led plan to reduce carbon, water and waste consumption, despite the EAC finding that only 11 retailers have signed up to SCAP voluntarily.
A government spokesperson added: ‘We recognise how crucial it is for the environmental and social impacts to be well managed, particularly in this era of fast fashion… In our response we explain the action already being taken in respect of clothing and outline our [existing] plans for the future.’
Other recommendations made by the EAC and rejected by the government included reducing VAT on clothes repair services – as Sweden has already done – to encourage people to use clothes for longer, and reducing the fashion industry’s carbon emissions back to 1990 levels.
A survey for the fashion trade publication Drapers reported that 85% of brands, retailers and suppliers thought the government was not doing enough to help the fashion industry become more sustainable, while 69% supported the EAC’s 1p a garment charge.