The carbon footprint of the UK clothing sector is worsening, a new report reveals, driven by the ongoing popularity of cheap and cheerful âfast fashionâ and a shortage of sustainable raw materials.
Although the amount of clothing being sent to landfill has fallen by 14% from 350,000 tonnes in 2012 to 300,000 in 2016 a staggering one-quarter is still binned rather than recycled. That is down from 31% four years ago.
The volume of clothes bought rose by nearly 200,000 tonnes to 1.13 million tonnes in 2016, causing 26 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from production to disposal and putting clothing fourth after housing, transport and food in terms of its impact on the environment, according to new research by the governmentâs waste advisory body Wrap.
However the 2017 Valuing our Clothes: The Cost of UK Fashion report â an update on an study done in 2012 â also found that UK householders are saving 700,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by washing clothes at lower temperatures and ironing and tumble-drying them less.
Just over a quarter of washes (26%) were tumble-dried, down from nearly a third (32%) in 2012, while people were also ironing their clothes less, a survey of more than 2,000 people as part of the research revealed.
But the UK needs to find new sources of sustainable materials and new markets for used clothing, the report says, singling out âfibre to fibreâ recycling â whereby clothing is turned back into clothing â as a key opportunity.
Wrap launched a sustainable clothing action plan (Scap) in 2013, a voluntary agreement whose signatories account for 58% of the sectorâs retail sales by volume, with targets to reduce carbon, water and waste across the life cycle of products.
Steve Creed, director of the Wrap business programme, said: âItâs great that fewer clothes are ending up in the residual waste, but overall our carbon footprint is rising so the next few years are critical in balancing growing demand with supplying clothes more sustainably. Iâm confident Scap will play a big part in helping to make this happen, and make sustainable fashion much more mainstream.â
The organisation is now urging retailers and brands to focus on so-called âpriorityâ garments which have the biggest environmental impact and are also the biggest sellers. Top of the list are womenâs dresses, jumpers and jeans, followed by menâs T-shirts and jumpers. The global water footprint of 1kg of cotton (a shirt and pair of jeans) is between 10,000 â 20,000 litres, for example, depending on where the cotton was grown.
Trewin Restorick, chief executive of the Hubbub environmental charity, commented: âIt is encouraging that the amount of clothing being landfilled is decreasing, but research suggests this may be because people are hoarding more at home. Overall sales of clothing is increasing and the UK needs to jump off the fast fashion treadmill to find a truly sustainable approach.â