Our insatiable appetite for clothes comes with a huge social and environmental price tag: carbon emissions, water use, chemical and plastic pollution are all destroying our environment.
The era of throwaway fashion must end, and government must penalise companies who do not act responsibly and reward those that do, according to MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee.
The committee scrutinised the impact of the fashion industry, inviting evidence from brands, retailers and campaign groups. The inquiry found that UK consumers buy more new clothes per person than any other country in Europe, with more than one million tonnes discarded each year.
Although some parts of the industry are making progress in reducing their carbon and water consumption, these improvements have been outweighed by the increased volumes of clothing being sold, the MPs found. Some 1,130,000 tonnes of clothing was purchased in the UK in 2016, an increase of almost 200,000 tonnes since 2012, MPs found.
Mandatory targets needed
A voluntary approach to improving the sustainability of the industry is failing, it said. Just 11 retailers have signed up to reduce their water, waste and carbon footprints through waste advisory organisation WRAP’s Sustainability Clothing Action Plan.
WRAP’s targets should be made mandatory for all retailers with a turnover of more than £36 million as a ‘licence to practice’, the MPs said. Their report also recommended that government work with retailers to increase use of digital supply chain technology to improve traceability.
A 1p charge on fashion retailers to pay for better clothing collection and recycling, and that the government uses the tax system to incentivise reuse, repair and recycling of clothes, it suggested. Children should be taught how to design, create, mend and repair clothes at school, they added.
The MPs also want the government to publish a list of retailers who are required by law to report under the Modern Slavery Act that their supply chains do not contain forced labour and illegally low pay, and apply a penalty for companies to fail to comply.
Committee chair Mary Creagh MP said: “Our insatiable appetite for clothes comes with a huge social and environmental price tag: carbon emissions, water use, chemical and plastic pollution are all destroying our environment.”
Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and chief reporter for the Ecologist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.