WRAP forecasts clear-out of 67 million clothes after lockdown

67 million items of clothing could be discarded by UK households once the Covid-19 lockdown ends, says a new survey.WRAP forecasts clear-out of 67 million clothes after lockdown

Releasing the findings of the ‘Citizen Insights: Textiles and Covid-19 Survey’ today (24 June), the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) revealed two in five citizens are having a clear-out of clothing during lockdown, predicting the British public are set to dispose of 67 million unwanted textiles as Covid-19 lockdown restrictions lift.

WRAP forecasts two out of three people will give unwanted clothing items to charity in the coming weeks but expresses concern that 14 per cent could dispose of items in the general rubbish.

It has called on the public to read its guidance on discarding used textiles which it promotes in its Love Your Clothes campaign, after it reported 36 per cent of households that have already disposed of clothes during lockdown have done so through the general waste stream.

Data reported to WRAP suggested that the equivalent of 184 million textile items had been cleared out, and the majority (57 per cent) are still at home waiting to be disposed of as lockdown ends.

The most common textile items the public sorted out during lockdown are clothes (37 per cent) with outerwear making up the bulk – particularly t-shirts, blouses, jumpers, hoodies and sweaters.

People have also spent time sorting through their unwanted shoes (19 per cent), bedding (12 per cent), bags and handbags (10 per cent), accessories (10 per cent) and household textiles (10 per cent).

Peter Maddox, Director at WRAP, said: “We have been working with organisations from across the sector to prepare for when they reopen and the expected high levels of donations coming in, over a relatively short time period. Everyone can play a role in supporting the charity and textile reuse and recycling sector. Our insights tell us that most people prefer to donate or recycle unwanted clothes, but with an unprecedented volume about to be unleashed it’s important that we all take a few simple steps so not to overwhelm the sector.

“Whether you’re using a charity shop, textile bank, retail take-back scheme or kerbside collections the golden rule is to check they’re operating before you go. Call ahead or look online – check with your local authority – but please never leave clothes in front of a closed charity shop or a full textiles bank. Our Love Your Clothes campaign has more details to help anyone, anywhere in the UK, by showing where you can recycle clothes where you live.”

Fighting to end textile waste

Textile waste is one of the most environmentally-damaging waste streams. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), textile production uses a staggering 98 million tonnes of non-renewable resources annually, producing 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

However, it appears as if consumer knowledge on the environmental impacts of clothing is on the rise and with this a determination to prevent textile waste. WRAP’s survey found that the proportion of people concerned by the environmental impacts of clothing, and actively committed to stopping clothing waste, has risen from 31 per cent of the population in 2017, to 50 per cent by 2020.

As well as sharing its latest survey findings with the charitable and recycling sector, WRAP has also communicated these results to the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCRAP) 2020 Commitment, to assist in developing messaging by retailers and brands encouraging the public to donate textiles through in-store collection.

Managed by WRAP, SCRAP is formed of 90 signatories and supporters making up more than 48 per cent of UK retail sales by volume, including ASOS and M&S. In 2013, they signed a voluntary commitment aiming to reduce the carbon, water and waste footprint of clothing by 15 per cent by 2020. However, its latest results revealed that its signatories had been making very slow progress towards reaching its waste targets.

Earlier this month, WRAP also re-launched its grant fund of £1.5 million for “imaginative projects” intending to boost textile recycling and reuse.

Textiles that protect the environment and people

In addition to its textiles survey, WRAP also published a new global research report which reveals consumers worldwide are demanding a textile industry that protects both the environment and people.

Produced in association with the World Resources Institute (WRI) with support from the Laudes Foundation, the ‘Changing Our Clothes: Why the clothing sector should adopt new business models’ report surveyed citizens in India, the US, UK and Europe.

It found a potential mass market appeal for business models that prioritise sustainability and equity. Participants showed significant support for ‘disruptor initiatives’ which generate economic benefits by prolonging the life of clothes  such as clothing rental schemes, re-sale and repair options.

Whilst the UK Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy outlines how it will set minimum requirements through ecodesign to encourage resource efficient product design, last year it dismissed proposals put forward by Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) for a one pence tax on clothing to fund the collection, recycling and reuse of textiles.

Proponents of sustainable fashion hope the Environment Bill, which is currently waiting to be discussed at committee stage, could bring an extended producer responsibility (EPR) for textiles, with producers taking responsibility for the costs of managing their products once they become waste.

You can read WRAP’s findings in full on its website.