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Comment: A circular economy is the only way forward for fashion

Peter Maddox

The carbon and water footprints of UK fashion have decreased significantly since we launched the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) in 2012, writes Peter Maddox, director of WRAP UK [the Waste and Resources Action Programme].

SCAP is a voluntary agreement to minimise the industry’s environmental impact, and we are on track to exceed the 2020 targets that signatories [including Marks & Spencer, Asos, Ted Baker, F&F and Whistles] have committed to for both the carbon and water metrics.

But the waste target has proven harder to budge, and our analysis strongly suggests that this is connected to our increasing consumption of clothes.

The current SCAP agreement ends in December. What will the next decade bring? One thing is for sure: concern around the environmental impact of clothing and textiles is not going to go away. After all, the household greenhouse gas footprint of the clothes we buy in the UK is equivalent to driving a car 6,000 miles.

Our own evidence base, allied to our engagement with stakeholders, clearly suggests that we cannot just stop our work on textiles at the end of this year. I have been greatly encouraged that Boohoo, Mint Velvet and Urban Outfitters have recently joined SCAP.

It’s clear that any new agreement will need to focus on tackling climate change, taking account of the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action agreed at the United Nations in December 2018.

At the same time, carbon is not the only problem: we also need to address the issue of over-consumption of the planet’s limited resources. Key to this is the adoption of circular business models, such as leasing – viewing clothing as a service rather than a product – and improving durability.

And when clothes eventually come to the end of their first lives, we need to deal with this much better, by encouraging more people to donate to charity, as well as through much higher levels of repair and reuse of clothing.

Then, when clothes are no longer fit for use, we will need much more UK-based infrastructure to recycle and reprocess them, along with the market development necessary to enable textile waste to be made into new, high-value products. There is also the growing potential of fibre-to-fibre recycling.

There is clearly a huge agenda to be tackled, and the only way to achieve these goals is to collaborate.

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Join the world’s leaders in sustainability at Drapers Sustainable Fashion 2020 in London on 11 March.

The event is for fashion brands and retailers, clothes manufacturers, supply chain experts, innovators and anybody for whom sustainability matters.

We are creating a programme of hard-hitting talks, projects showcasing sustainability in action, and start-up innovation that is pushing the boundaries of the possible.

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