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How the UK Waste Prevention Programme impacts the fashion and textile industry

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A staggering amount of shopping takes place in the UK, with more than two tonnes of clothing purchased every minute.

This excessive consumerism, combined with the overproduction of fast fashion, is having a disastrous impact on the earth. Across the UK, an estimated 11 million garments are put in a landfill each week and all of the new clothes sold in the UK produce more carbon emissions per minute than driving a car around the world six times.

However, the UK government is working to improve businesses’ standards for the production and reuse of the clothing they make. England’s Waste Prevention Programme has identified seven sectors where the government and industry can improve, including: textiles, furniture, construction, road vehicles, electrical and electronics products, packaging plastics and single-use items and food.

The Waste Prevention Programme aims to lower greenhouse gas emissions produced by these industries and to create substantial reduction in unnecessary waste, protect nature from harm, and create more security of natural resources.

In March 2021, the Department for Environmental Food & Rural Affairs created new measures to  address the amount of waste generated in the UK, as part of an update to the Waste Prevention Programme. These new measures include creating an electronic waste tracker and exploring more of the government’s powers under the Environment Bill, which will directly impact the textile and fashion industry as they come into full force by the end of 2022.

More than 80% of the environmental impacts of a product can be addressed during the design phase. As a result, the government is working to implement a three-fold approach that will ensure businesses are using sustainable practices from the outset. This includes product requirements, consumer information schemes that will support customers in identifying more resource-efficient products, and Extended Producer Responsibility schemes that ensure producers must cover the cost of recycling to incentivise companies to make products that minimise the cost of recycling.

Overall, the government is looking to focus on the durability, reparability and recyclability of clothing products, which means people can keep their clothes for longer and less waste will go into our landfills.  

A July 2020 report from WRAP found that since 2013 there has been 387,000 tonnes of prevented waste due to the efforts of environmental organisations and regulation. Around 103,000 tonnes of this amount would not have been prevented without the Waste Prevention Programme, according to the report.

Regulation must now go further to halt the devastating effects of fast fashion. Changing Markets Foundation recently launched Greenwash.com at London Fashion Week to bring attention to rampant greenwashing in the fashion industry.

The launch came as The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced that it would be investigating environmental claims in the UK fashion retail sector, considering how products and services claiming to be ‘eco-friendly’ are being marketed, and whether consumers could be being misled.

As UK consumers now spend £54 billion annually on clothing and footwear, the  UK Government must continue to push businesses to improve sustainable design, and to consider the quality of clothing and  overall impact on the Earth — the Waste Prevention Programme will continue to be a key factor in its efforts to create a more sustainable fashion and textile industry.

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