Fashion brands set to cover recycling costs under new UK Government plans

The UK Government has today (18 March) begun consulting on measures to reduce waste from sectors including fashion, furniture, electricals and electronics - including new charges that would see businesses contribute to recycling costs.

Fashion brands set to cover recycling costs under new UK Government plans

The proposed policy changes are designed to reduce waste at the source while also increasing recycling capacity

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) opened consultations on the measures, which will form part of a broader Waste Prevention Programme, today. The Programme will form part of the Resources and Waste Strategy, which was first published in 2018. Several key strategy consultations had originally been diarised for 2020 but were pushed back due to Covid-19.

Topics covered by the consultation will include eco-design standards for sectors identified to have a high environmental impact, such as construction and furniture; minimum requirements on recycled content; changes to labelling requirements and reforms to Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) requirements in sectors that produce hard-to-recycle products.

Defra is anticipating that consultations on new EPR requirements for sectors like textiles will be completed by the end of 2022. Textiles is a particular focus area, given that global production is now fast outpacing the development of repair and recycling systems and infrastructure. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, just 1% of the textiles produced by the global fashion sector every year are recycled in a ‘closed-loop’ manner. Defra’s own research has found that the amount of textiles purchased in the UK increased by 20%  between 2012 and 2016, with consumption and discarding outpacing improvements in recycling.

Defra is, therefore, proposing a requirement that would see companies across the value chain, like manufacturers and retail, contributing to the cost of recycling. Ministers had previously thrown out the Environmental Audit Committee’s recommendation that funds for recycling systems could be raised by a 1p tax per garment, payable by consumers.

Changes to EPR requirements, the Department said, would build on the success of voluntary agreements such as the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) co-ordinated by WRAP. It added that companies would be supported to meet the new requirements with services and research like those offered by the UK’s new UKRI-funded network of circular economy hubs.

“We are firmly committed to ending the ‘throwaway’ culture as we build back greener,” Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said.

“Major retailers and fashion brands have made huge strides in reducing their environmental footprint but there is more we must do.”

Further action

The announcement from Defra has been welcomed by groups including WRAP and Business in the Community.

However, MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee recently wrote to Ministers asking for broader changes to ensure that the UK’s economic recovery from Covid-19 promotes circular economy principles. Its recent recommendation report on the green recovery highlights the potential benefits of VAT reductions for businesses that offer circular economy services like repair, among other things

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to announce a string of changes to tax systems next week, so there may be movement in some of these regards in the near future.  

Yet broad concerns about the pace of implementation regarding the Resources and Waste Strategy and the Environment Bill – the mechanisms by which Defra will enshrine the measures identified through consultation in law – are growing. The Environment Bill was due to return to Parliament in January after the winter recess but has been rolled over into the next Parliamentary session. The Green Party has warned of delays of around six months.

Join the conversation at edie’s Circular Economy Inspiration Sessions

On Thursday 25 March, as part of its special Circular Economy Week of online content and events, edie is hosting three live, interactive webinar presentations and discussions – all dedicated to accelerating the transition to a zero-waste economy. 

Called the Circular Economy Inspiration Sessions, the three events, range from Q&A style debates with circular economy experts, business-led panel discussions and a masterclass. Experts from organisations including the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Zero Waste Scotland and The Body Shop are taking part. 

For full details and to register, click here. Tickets, which give holders access to all three events live and on-demand, cost £49 plus VAT. 

Sarah George  

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