Government rejects mandatory environmental targets for big-name fashion brands

The EAC's recommendations were developed during a six-month inquiry that heard from businesses

The confirmation forms part of the Government’s response to the Environmental Audit Committee’s (EAC) Fixing Fashion inquiry and report.

Published today (18 June), the response document confirms that the Government has rejected most of the EAC’s recommendations, including the development of an industry-wide blueprint for reaching net-zero emissions; tax breaks for fashion firms using low-impact methods and designs and the implementation of mandatory environmental targets for fashion giants with annual turnovers of £36m or more.

It states that Ministers believe WRAP’s voluntary Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) is sufficient enough to cover these areas, as it has garnered the support of more than 80 major fashion firms to date.

Ministers have also thrown out the EAC’s recommendation on banning corporates from burning or landfilling unsold stock which is of good enough condition to be used or recycled – a proposal which came off the back of the outrage which Burberry faced after disclosing that it had burned £28m of stock between July 2017 and July 2018. The response states that more must be done to find outlets for waste products before such a ban could be legislated, given that most garments are now made from hard-to-recycle textile blends.

Additionally, the EAC’s advice on “shifting the balance of incentives in favour of reuse, repair and recycling” has not been accepted. The Committee had argued that lower VAT on repair services could reduce the £140m worth of clothing currently disposed of in the UK every year, citing lived examples of new shoes from fast fashion brands costing less than a re-heeling service. Ministers, on the other hand, said they did not believe the cost savings of such cuts would be passed on to consumers. 

EAC chair Mary Creagh said the Government’s response proves that it is “content to tolerate practices that trash the environment and exploit workers despite having just committed to net-zero emissions targets”.

“The Government is out of step with the public who are shocked by the fact that we are sending 300,000 tonnes of clothes a year to incineration or landfill,” Creagh said. “Ministers have failed to recognise that urgent action must be taken to change the fast fashion business model which produces cheap clothes that cost the earth.”

The taxing question

The one EAC recommendation that the Government has agreed to consider is a 1p extended producer responsibility charge (EPR), to be applied to fashion firms for each garment they produce. According to the committee, this move could raise £35m raised every year to pay for better garment recycling facilities.

However, the EAC has expressed disappointment that new EPR schemes for textiles, due to be brought in under the new Resources and Waste Strategy, may not come into force until 2025.

A recent report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation put the annual cost to the UK economy of landfilling clothing and household textiles at about £82m. Similarly,  the World Wear Project estimates that the average household generates more than 35kg of waste clothing annually, with 85% being sent to landfill.

Reacting to the Government’s comments on the EA’s report, Worn Again Technolgies’ chief executive and founder Cyndi Rhoades said: “The fashion industry has been facing a growing waste problem for many years. Now, solutions are on the horizon that will be able to recapture raw materials to put back into the supply chain.

“While the proposed levy won’t solve the problem altogether it would have been a clear step in the right direction and it is disappointing to see this rejected by the government. Voluntary participation for brands does not go far enough in order for the industry to utilise upcoming solutions and eradicate textile and apparel waste.”

Sarah George

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