Last week, the cross-party environmental audit committee released a well publicised report addressing the environmental impact of fast fashion and possible solutions for this. The report recommends introducing a 1p tax to be paid by manufacturers for each fashion garment produced, as well as initiatives to extend the life of each item through repairing and general care, instead of buying new. But do these steps go far enough to ensure a sustainable future for the fashion industry? The responsibility of fashion manufacturers is the focus of the report, but consumers also need to take responsibility if any serious impact is going to happen.
Many manufacturers and consumers of fast fashion have ignored the impacts so far
Fast fashion is still the world’s second largest polluter, with impacts ranging from poisoning water supplies with fabric dyes to damaging eco-systems through the use of resources such as cotton. Consumers are aware more than ever of these impacts, but this hasn’t made a difference to the rate at which customers constantly want new fashion items; treating them as literally disposable. Britain is the biggest purchaser of fast fashion in Europe, at a volume currently at 26.7kg of new items each year per person. At current estimates, £140 million worth of this ends up in landfill. Producers have also been reluctant to effect real change on sustainability within the fashion industry, with many brands simply refusing to take their environmental responsibilities seriously. The committee sought solutions to achieve real change; recommending that introducing a 1p levy on all new fashion items will force manufacturers and consumers to change their attitudes towards fast fashion.
£35 million to invest in fashion recycling and sustainability
MPs expect that the 1p charge on each fashion garment produced by manufacturers with a turnover of more that £36 million will generate over £35 million. This charge is to be paid by the manufacturer and the resulting funds will then be invested in increasing recycling initiatives, new fabric technologies and schemes to encourage repairing and extending the life of each garment. The report has been welcomed by campaigners for environmental sustainability, as it has forced a spotlight on the issues caused by fast fashion. The report also highlights the importance of creating clothes that stay out of landfill by making them last longer or encouraging sharing of clothes; schemes long championed by organisations such as WRAP. Investment in repairing lessons and tax breaks for companies offering clothing repairs are also key suggestions from the committee. However, these extra proposals all have consumer behaviour change at their heart, which is an essential factor to create sustainable change.
Consumers must also take responsibility to curb their fast fashion addiction
As the report addressed, manufacturers must take more responsibility to have real impact on managing the harmful environmental effects of fashion. Brands highlighted in the report as doing this well include M&S, Burberry and H&M. The 1p tax levy is an important step- it forces brands to be more effective and environmentally responsible, while also highlighting the issue of fast fashion for brands, manufacturers and consumers alike. Proposals in the report recognise this need for change, emphasising the importance on teaching repairing skills and suggesting swapping or hiring clothes. Unless consumers are willing to address their constant demand for new clothes, this levy will not have a lasting impact. Consumers and manufacturers must work together to insist on environmentally sustainable future fashion; and that’s the real task ahead.
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