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UK Fashion May be Winning at Water Reduction, But it’s Failing With Waste

While Britain’s fashion sector is making inroads in minimizing the carbon and water footprints of its clothing, more work still needs to be done to reduce waste.

That’s according to the latest update from the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan 2020 (SCAP 2020), a commitment by 85 of the United Kingdom’s leading retailers, charity shops and clothing recyclers to collectively reduce clothing’s environmental impact 15 percent by 2020.

While SCAP 2020 signatories—which include Asos, Arcadia Group (which owns Topshop), Marks & Spencer, Next, Primark, Tesco, the Salvation Army, the British Retail Consortium and the Textile Recycling Association—have already exceeded the water target and are “well on the way” to meeting the carbon target a year ahead of their deadline, waste remains a “harder area” for them to “influence,” the progress report noted.

Representing more than 65 percent of U.K. retail sales by volume, according to Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the England-based nonprofit coordinating the effort, signatories have reduced waste across the product life cycle by only 1.4 percent since 2012. It is “unlikely,” WRAP said, that the 3.5 percent target will be met by December 2020.

WRAP’s Textiles Market Situation Report 2019, also published in December, showed the amount of clothing in residual waste, and therefore ending up in the landfill or incinerator, has increased by 10 percent since 2014-15. This is “challenging” for signatories to reduce, WRAP said, as Britons buy more clothing than ever. Textile consumption in the country, it added, has increased 3 percent since 2013.

“These results show that much more work is required, and by many more businesses outside of SCAP 2020, to keep pace with the U.K.’s love of clothes,” WRAP said. “During 2020, encouraging reuse and recycling behavior amongst citizens will be key to making progress towards this target.”

A poll by Hubbub this month found that Britons will spend 2.4 billion pounds ($3.1 billion) on outfits for holiday parties this season, and one in five will wear the outfit just once.

A cross-political inquiry into the social and environmental impacts of Britain’s fashion industry recently found that U.K. consumers purchase more new clothes annually than any other European country, and send roughly 300,000 tons of clothes a year to landfills and incinerators.