Put a penny tax on new clothes to cut waste and improve recycling, say MPs

19 February 2019, 01:01 | Updated: 19 February 2019, 07:17

Retailers should pay a penny per garment to fund better recycling and try to end the era of throwaway fashion, according to an influential group of MPs.

Every year £140m worth of clothes are sent to landfill in the UK.

A report by the Environmental Audit Committee (ECA) into clothing waste and sustainability suggested consumption of new clothing in the UK is higher than any other European country.

It calls on the government to force retailers and clothing producers to take more responsibility.

One penny paid per item of clothing could raise an extra £35m for better collections and recycling.

The report recommends "clear economic incentives" to encourage shops to "do the right thing".

It is also suggested that companies designing products with lower environmental impact are rewarded while those that do not are penalised.

And a tax on virgin plastics which is due to start in 2022 should be extended to synthetic textile products, it said.

MP Mary Creagh, chairwoman of the Environmental Audit Committee, told Sky News: "The government can certainly change the law.

"It's changed the law to force companies to take back their batteries in their cars, we think that should be extended now to textiles.

"A million tonnes of textiles a year are being thrown away and we need to bend the curve of consumption. We are urging consumers to buy less, to repair and reuse more before they recycle as well."

The report also urged ministers to change the law to force companies to perform due diligence checks across their supply chains to prevent forced or child labour.

It said: "Forced labour is used to pick cotton in two of the world's biggest cotton producing countries, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

"Labour exploitation is also taking place in the UK. 'Made in the UK' should mean workers are paid at least the minimum wage.

"But we were told it is an open secret that some garment factories in places like Leicester are not paying the minimum wage. This must stop. But if the risk of being caught is low, then the incentive to cut corners is high."

The committee praised some retailers, among them Tesco, ASOS, Primark and Marks & Spencer, for their engagement with sustainability plans, while accusing others, such as Kurt Geiger, Boohoo, Missguided and JD Sports as being "less engaged".

Responding to the report, the Boohoo Group said: "We continue to consider how best we can ensure our businesses operate in a way that promotes the sustainability of fashion; we already have a strong framework of practices and policies in place that meet or exceed industry initiatives, and we are revisiting our stance on membership of the initiatives flagged in the report.

"Since November 2018 we have also developed specific sustainable clothing ranges that we've introduced into our brands.

"We are committed to maintaining an open dialogue on this matter with parliament, fellow retailers and the group's stakeholders."

JD Sports also released a statement: "Approximately 90% of the Group's sales come from products supplied by third party brands, with our two principal brands - Nike and Adidas - internationally recognised as industry leaders with regards to driving sustainability within the design and development of their product ranges.

"Private label sales make up the rest of the Group's sales and there is an ongoing project to review options on improving the sustainability of our manufactured garments.

"As a business, we participate in a number of ethical initiatives which fall outside the narrow list referred to in the committee's report.

"These include ethical labour audits in our supply chain and engaging with Stronger Together on modern slavery matters."

The ECA's key recommendations include:

:: Mandatory environment targets on retailers turning over more than £36m a year

:: A penny charge for every item of clothing to go towards a clothing collection and recycling

:: Rewarding companies who design clothes with lower environmental impacts and penalising those that do not

:: A call to the fashion industry to work together to create a plan to reduce net carbon emissions to zero worldwide

:: Sky News will broadcast live from 300 metres down in the Indian Ocean next month. The series - called Deep Ocean Live - will examine the impact of plastic pollution, and includes the first ever live programme from submersibles in the twilight zone.

:: Sky's Ocean Rescue campaign encourages people to reduce their single-use plastics. You can find out more about the campaign and how to get involved at www.skyoceanrescue.com