We have an “insatiable appetite for clothes” at the cost of the environment, but the government is still failing to take urgent action.
Ministers have rejected a proposal from MPs to put a penny tax on new clothes in order to fund better textile recycling and tackle the UK’s culture of disposable fast fashion.
In a report published in February, a cross-party group of influential MPs said that the government should force retailers and clothing producers to take more responsibility for the impact of their industry with the new tax. But the government’s response on Tuesday (18 June) failed to commit and stated that it could only be considered by 2025.
“The government has rejected our call, demonstrating that it is content to tolerate practices that trash the environment, having just committed to net zero emission targets,” said Environmental Audit Committee chair Mary Creagh. “Urgent action must be taken to change the fast-fashion business model which produces cheap clothes that cost the earth.”
The government responded: “We recognise how crucial it is for the environmental and social impacts to be well managed, particularly in this era of fast fashion… In our response we explain the action already being taken in respect of clothing and outline our [existing] plans for the future.” But none of the EAC recommendations were accepted.
The UK consumes more new clothing than any other European country, according to the original report by the EAC. Every year, £140m worth of clothes are sent to landfill in this country, with the UK fashion business creating 1m tonnes of waste each year – making it a bigger source of carbon emissions than the aviation and shipping industries combined.
The suggested penny tax would be paid by retailers, and could raise up to £35m to improve the UK’s textile recycling facilities.
The report says that companies should be offered “clear economic incentives” for doing “the right thing” when it comes to sustainability, with retailers and producers being rewarded for designing clothes with a lower environmental impact.
In contrast, brands and manufacturers that create clothes in an environmentally unfriendly manner would be financially penalised.
The report also recommends that darning classes be introduced in UK schools, so that young people learn how to mend torn or worn clothes instead of throwing them away.
Creagh said that while individual consumers should take responsibility for the sustainability of their clothes shopping habits, big businesses also have an important role to play.
“The government must act to end the era of throwaway fashion by incentivising companies that offer sustainable designs and repair services,” she said after publishing the report.
“Children should be taught the joy of making and mending clothes in school as an antidote to anxiety and the mental health crisis in teenagers. Consumers must play their part by buying less, mending, renting and sharing more.”
Want to shop in a way that doesn’t cost the earth? Check out the Stylist guide to the UK’s best sustainable fashion brands – then find out everything you need to know about recycling your clothes.
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