London, United Kingdom – The fashion industry’s drive to minimize the environmental footprint of the clothing it produces is being hampered by the persistent habit of buying new clothes, with the average person in the UK purchasing 28 items of clothing each year, according to a report by climate action non-governmental organization (NGO) Wrap.
Leading companies such as Asos and Primark have committed to Wrap’s voluntary environmental pact, Textiles 2030, aiming to mitigate the environmental impact of their clothing production. While these firms have made strides in reducing the carbon intensity and water usage per tonne in their clothing manufacturing processes, Wrap’s annual progress report, published recently, warns that these hard-fought achievements are being “cancelled out” by the continuous expansion of clothing production.
Textiles and fashion are responsible for up to 10% of global carbon emissions. Catherine David, Wrap’s Director of Behavior Change and Business Programs, emphasized that the progress made by 130 brands and retailers involved in Textiles 2030 demonstrates that change is possible. However, she highlighted that “as fast as positive improvements happen, they’re cancelled out by rising production.”
Between 2019 and 2022, the companies managed to reduce the carbon impact of their textiles by 12% and water usage by 4% on a per-tonne basis. However, these gains were offset by a 13% increase in the volume of textiles produced and sold, as per the report. Consequently, water usage actually increased by 8% during this period, while the reduction in carbon impact stood at just 2%.
Since production and consumption are closely linked, Catherine David pointed out that consumers also play a role in this issue. She stated, “We’re working with companies to improve clothes, but the other part of the equation is our role as shoppers.” She noted that the UK population buys more clothing than any other European nation, with research indicating that a quarter of most wardrobes go unworn in a year, and nearly a quarter of people admit to wearing clothes only a few times.
Wrap is encouraging businesses to design clothing with greater durability and recyclability, incorporating more recycled materials. The report did highlight some positive trends, including increased use of recycled polyester and polyamide, which reduced the reliance on virgin materials. Additionally, nearly three-quarters of cotton used by Textiles 2030 signatories now comes from improved sources, such as the Better Cotton Initiative. Furthermore, more brands and retailers are operating take-back schemes, resulting in a doubling of the volume of used textiles collected and sold for reuse or recycling between 2019 and 2022.