Sustainable Clothing Action Plan report shows progress, but more effort needed
If nothing else, 2019 has been the year in which sustainability has been the keyword for both consumers and businesses, but while progress is being made in some areas, there’s still plenty of work to do, a new report showed on Thursday.
The latest data from Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) 2020 commitment signatories showed that “improvements in design and manufacture continue to have a positive effect in making our clothes in a more sustainable fashion,” but too much fashion is being thrown away and ending up in landfill.
SCAP is an initiative of non-profit campaigning group Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and it unites brands and retail signatories with the charity sector and recyclers to tackle the environmental costs of clothing. As of last year, its business signatories represented 48% of the UK clothing retail market by sales volume and new signatories in 2019 have included Boohoo, Mint Velvet and Urban Outfitters.
The latest progress report said the the water target has been achieved ahead of 2020, with a reduction of more than 18% against the 15% target. Cotton sourced from Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) suppliers has been a large contributor to this.
And at the current rate of progress (13.4% improvement), WRAP said it’s “confident that the 15% target for a reduction in carbon will also be met". This is due to several factors including changes in the proportions of different fibres used, and increased use of sustainable forms of cotton.
But progress is less encouraging in some other areas. As far as whole chain waste is concerned, “reduction continues at a slower pace with a 1.4% improvement against baseline”. Supply chain transparency is improving and several SCAP retailers have mapped their supply chains. However, more work is needed, and WRAP is working with signatories to try to improve this, but thinks it unlikely the 3.5% target will be met by this time next year.
And ‘product waste at end of lifecycle’ is seriously underperforming. Against its 2012 baseline, WRAP’s previous estimate (using 2015 data) of clothing disposed of in the residual waste stream showed a decrease of 50,000 tonnes or 14%. But the most recent data (2017) shows that this has changed, with the reduction now at only 4% against the baseline. Total clothing sent to landfill or incineration rose by 10% (300,000 to 336,000 tonnes) between 2015 and 2017, although at least the total hasn’t risen above the 350,000 tonnes baseline.
So why is this area doing less well? "Population growth, rising consumption levels, lack of collection infrastructure and how long we actually keep clothes,” all have their part to play, WRAP said. It added that clothing consumption increased in 2014, and with an estimate that people keep items on average for three years, spikes in disposal appear several years later. WRAP also found that spending on clothing rose year-on-year (albeit at a rate that has slowed recently), with the UK spending around £60.5 billion on clothes annually.
This year has seen a big focus on other ways to ‘dispose of’ unwanted clothing, such as donation and private exchange and sales. And WRAP said an estimated 620,000 tonnes of textiles were collected for re-use and recycling in 2018, up from 600,000 tonnes in a year. Most was destined for the re-use market with 32% re-used in the UK (charity shops) and around 60% exported.
But it added that too big a proportion of clothes “remain in limbo, unworn and unseen in the nation’s wardrobes and WRAP wants to encourage more people to donate their unworn items”.
Director Peter Maddox said: “We need to focus on ways to keep these valuable materials in the economy when we’ve finished with them. Clothing has the fourth largest environmental impact after housing, transport and food and yet every year nearly one million tonnes of textiles are burnt or buried in the UK. This is such a waste when virgin resources are under pressure, often in countries with severe water stress”.
The group will launch an awareness-raising campaign next month to inspire more people to donate their unwanted clothes. The Love Your Clothes Donation Generation campaign will highlight the ways clothes can easily be donated, and the array of items that can be passed on.
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