Will a ‘penny per garment’ tax reduce fast fashion?

Posted on 20 Feb 2019 by Maddy White

Britain's throwaway fashion culture results in around 300,000 tonnes of clothing heading to landfill every year. Could a 'penny per garment' tax help to reduce this environmental time bomb?

Sock image for fashion - Pixabay (no credit required)
£140m worth of clothing goes to landfill every year.

The Environmental Audit Committee has called for fashion retailers to take responsibility for the waste they create.

Clothing brands and retailers should pay a penny on every garment they sell, in order to fund a £35m annual recycling scheme, according to the cross-party group.

Environmental Audit Committee Chair Mary Creagh MP said, “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.

“In the UK, we buy more clothes per person than any other country in Europe. ‘Fast fashion’ means we overconsume and under use clothes. As a result, we get rid of over a million tonnes of clothes, with £140m worth going to landfill, every year.”

What does ‘fast fashion’ actually mean?

Fast fashion doesn’t necessarily mean cheap, and it shouldn’t mean throwaway. - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Fast fashion doesn’t necessarily mean cheap, and it shouldn’t mean throwaway. – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Fast fashion doesn’t necessarily mean cheap, and it shouldn’t mean throwaway.

It should instead represent agility and reacting swiftly to trends, placing orders quickly and shipping products to consumers in a timely and sustainable manner.

A fast fashion approach should ensure that products are ordered in the correct amounts that satisfies demand without creating excess waste.

However, we now live in an era of online fashion giants such as Boohoo, Missguided and Forever21. Digital shopping is booming, hundreds of styles are uploaded every day to websites and just as many are discontinued and sent to the sales page.

Jennifer Holloway, CEO of Fashion Capital told The Manufacturer, “Fundamentally, it is excellent news that MPs are calling to review the retailing and manufacturing industry and the standards that are being adopted.”

She explains, “However, how can anyone have the right to say what’s cheap? It is subjective and really depends on personal income. I applaud the Home Office’s stance of naming and shaming e-tailers and retailers who are paying cost prices at less than the minimum wage. They should however go one step further and fine the companies.”

Whose responsibility is it?

If Britain can produce ethical fast fashion manufactured in the UK, then this could potentially revive the sector post-Brexit - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
The EAC has called for fashion retailers to take responsibility – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Increasing a garment’s lifetime is one of the most effective means of reducing fashion’s environmental footprint.

Whose responsibility is that? Does it fall to the consumer who is purchasing new clothes every week, or is it the e-tailer who is churning out new styles in unsustainable quantities in equal swiftness?

Realistically it doesn’t matter. What matters is that retailers pay a fair price for garments, so working conditions are ethical. Fashion businesses use local supply chains where possible and don’t create unnecessary waste from over ordering. Consumers should make a concerted effort to buy from ethical labels, recycle their clothes and know the problems incurred with a throwaway culture. We all have our part to play.

Will an extra penny on garments make a dent in this unsustainable industry? The likelihood is no, it is a step to raising awareness of fashion companies who contribute to Britain’s throwaway fashion culture, but it is not a realistic solution to fashion’s waste issue.

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