News | Published March 05 2019

Penny clothing tax proposed by committee to prevent waste

The Environmental Audit Committee has called for clothing brands to take greater responsibility for the waste they produce. To achieve this, the committee called for a tax charging one penny per garment to help pay for the recycling and collection of unused garments. Hawthorn, a UK-based clothing manufacturer, welcome these proposals, highlighting factory wastage as another area that needs to be addressed to reduce the industry's environmental impact.

This new tax would fall under an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme which would also reward companies who produce products with lower environmental impact.

Every year, £140 million worth of clothing (i.e. 350,000 tonnes) is sent to the landfill, and the proposed tax could raise £35 million to assist with the disposal and recycling of this waste.

A report published by the environmental audit committee suggested that the consumption of new clothing was higher in the UK than in any other European country.

Alongside this proposed penny tax, the committee suggested taxation should be reformed to benefit companies that offer clothing repair, reducing the rate of disposal, and to change their practices to reduce their environmental footprint.

In a list of recommendations, the committee also called for minimum environmental targets for clothing brands with a turnover above £36 million, a reduction in the VAT charged on repair services and the introduction of lessons on designing and repairing clothes into the curriculum.

The chair of the committee, Mary Creagh MP, stated that: “Fashion shouldn’t cost the earth. Our insatiable appetite for clothes comes with a huge social and environmental price tag: carbon emissions, water use, chemical and plastic pollution are all destroying our environment.”

Addressing the proposed penny tax, Creagh added: “Fashion retailers must take responsibility for the clothes they produce. That means asking producers to consider and pay for the end of life process for their products through a new Extended Producer Responsibility  scheme.”

Beyond environmental impacts, the committee also assessed workers rights within the fashion industry. 

To try and reduce the exploitation of both international and domestic garment workers, the committee called for the strengthening of the Modern Slavery Act to ensure that forced labour is not included in the supply chain of any major companies.

Commenting on the need to strengthen these regulations, Creagh argued: “Fashion retailers have 'chased the cheap needle around the planet', commissioning production in countries with low pay and little trade union representation. Behind the perfect Instagram profiles and the pristine shop fronts of our fashion retailers the reality is shocking.”

“We recommend that the government strengthen the Modern Slavery Act to require large companies to ensure forced labour is not in their supply chains…Company law must be updated to require modern slavery disclosures by 2022.”

Hawthorn are committed to improving sustainability in their industry. Rob Williams, a director of the company, told The Parliamentary Review that, while they welcome these proposals, they think more can be done.

Rob explained: “In 2018, £140 million worth of clothing was sent to landfill in the UK alone, equating to around 350,000 tonnes of unwanted garments. 

"An average western household is estimated to dispose of 30kg of clothing annually, and of that 30kg only 4.5kg is recycled or donated – the rest is either sent to landfill or incinerated. As a manufacturer with an interest in sustainability and the reduction of waste in the fashion industry, we absolutely agree with MP Mary Creagh's comments with regards to imposing a 1p tax per item of clothing on retailers in an attempt to tackle the issue. 

"If this penny tax can help to improve recycling and collections to both reduce the amount of clothing which is destroyed, or increase the amount which is recycled, it will be an extremely worthwhile cause."

He added: "Although this would be an improvement and certainly a step in the right direction, we would also like to see a tax imposed on factories who create large amounts of waste. 

"Although the manufacturing of garments in the UK is scarce, it is estimated that 4 per cent of a factory's output is rejected during the quality check process. 

"We would like to see measures in place which regulate this wastage to ensure that manufacturers are encouraged to recycle the 4 per cent of clothing which is rejected, rather than add further to textiles which are sent to landfill or the incinerator." 

Authored by

George Salmon
Political Editor
March 05 2019

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