Fashion and textile giants pass carbon and water reduction goals, but fail to tackle waste

Back in 2012, businesses responsible for 60% of clothing sales in the UK signed onto shared goals to reduce emissions, water and waste by 2020. While the carbon and water targets have been exceeded, the businesses collectively failed to deliver on waste reduction.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that, globally, a bin lorry of fashion is landfilled or burned every second

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that, globally, a bin lorry of fashion is landfilled or burned every second

The shared goals – the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) – are overseen by charity WRAP, which has today (19 October) published the initiative’s final annual progress report.

According to the report, SCAP signatories have reduced their collective absolute carbon emissions by 21.6% since 2020, exceeding a commitment to a 15% reduction. Similarly, a commitment to reduce the firms’ collective water footprint by 15% within the same timeframe was exceeded, with a reduction of 18.2% achieved.

Trends that have helped to drive progress in these fields include efficiency improvements, switching to renewable energy and procuring more sustainable fibres.

Nonetheless, both of SCAP’s targets on waste were not met. The initiative was hoping to realise a 15% reduction in clothing waste from households but had delivered just a 4% reduction by 2017 – the last full year for which WRAP has data. WRAP expects progress to have plateaued through to the end of 2020, with Covid-19 lockdown restrictions in particular impacting collection, reuse and recycling systems.

Businesses additionally committed in 2012 to reduce the waste impact across the full value chain by 3.5% by 2020. This commitment covers not only clothing waste from households but in warehouses, retail outlets, manufacturing sites and other parts of the value chain. A reduction of 2.1% was actually realised. By some estimates, 15% of the textiles procured by fashion companies globally each year are wasted before they reach the consumer.

WRAP is hoping that progress on waste reduction can be accelerated through SCAP’s successor, Textiles 2030. The roadmap’s new targets are aligned with updated climate science; Textiles 2030 members are pledging to halve emissions by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050 at the latest.

On waste and resources, new numerical targets are yet to be finalised. But WRAP has stated that all retail signatories must ensure that all products are recyclable; improve product longevity; trial and scale reuse business models and scale up recycling partnerships.  

Textiles 2030 has received the support of 92 businesses and charities to date, including retailers representing 62% of all clothing put on the UK market, since its launch in April. Supporters include ASOS, Boohoo and Primark.

“The learnings and success of SCAP have provided the foundations for Textiles 2030,” said WRAP’s director of collaboration and change Dr David Moon.

“SCAP was the first voluntary agreement of its kind to measure and act within the UK textiles sector and the knowledge we have gained from this agreement has underpinned what needs to happen to make Textiles 2030 even more impactful. Sector-wide change is essential if we are to achieve climate targets and a circular economy in materials, so we have been collaborating with businesses, governments and other stakeholders to develop Textiles 2030.

The public, investment managers and policymakers are all demanding practical action, sustainable products and evidence of outcomes.  We need more companies to show their commitment to action through Textiles 2030, continuing and evolving the legacy of SCAP.”

Recent research from WRAP revealed that more than half (55%) of UK shoppers class the fashion industry’s negative impact on the environment as “severe”, with the majority having altered buying decisions with sustainability in mind since the start of 2020. Nonetheless, several major e-commerce brands which have been criticised by green groups, such as SHEIN, have seen their sales skyrocket with lockdown restrictions forcing physical stores to close.

Globally, the fashion sector accounts for 8-10% of annual emissions and results in a bin lorry of waste every second.

Sarah George



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