UK Government Refuses to Crack Down on Fast Fashion

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It has rejected recommendations that could divert some of the 300,000 tonnes of clothing that go to landfill each year.

Back in February, a group of MPs from the United Kingdom published a report called 'Fixing Fashion.' Its goal was to provide suggestions to the government for how to cope with the surge in fast fashion and the resulting 300,000 tonnes of clothing that go to landfill or incineration each year.

Unfortunately the UK government does not consider fast fashion to be as great an environmental threat as the MPs do. Despite the report stating that Britons purchase twice as many clothes as Italians and Germans, and that "textile production contributes more emissions to the climate crisis than international aviation and shipping combined, consumes lake-sized volumes of fresh water and creates chemical and microplastic pollution," the government voted against the recommendations included in the report. These included (among others):

– A 1-penny charge per garment as part of a new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme that would raise £35 million per year for better clothing collection and sorting

– A ban on incinerating or landfilling unsold stock that could be reused or recycled. The government said it would prefer to implement positive approaches, rather than punitive.

– Mandatory environmental targets for fashion companies with a turnover above £36 million. The government would prefer to see voluntary measures taken by the industry, but fails to note evidence that "the impact of increased volumes of clothing being sold outweighs efficiency savings made on carbon and water."

– The fashion industry coming together to create a blueprint for a net zero emissions world and a reduction of carbon consumption down to 1990 levels. Again, the government prefers voluntary measures to reduce carbon emissions, water usage, and waste.

– Using the tax system to incentivize repair, reuse, and recycling and to reward fashion companies that prioritize these steps. For example, the UK could follow in Sweden's footsteps and reduce VAT on clothing repair services.

The MPs who put forth the suggested changes are disappointed by the government's refusal to take action. Mary Creagh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, said,

"Fashion producers should be forced to clear up the mountains of waste they create. The Government has rejected our call, demonstrating that it is content to tolerate practices that trash the environment and exploit workers despite having just committed to net zero emission targets."

It is a frustrating disconnect between what the government says it wants, and yet is unwilling to do. While consumer behavior needs to change as well, there is a desperate need for the kinds of broader systemic changes that can only come from legislating better practices. The UK government says it will revisit these options by 2025, but hopefully public pressure will force them to do so earlier than that.