Sustainable cotton is turning Britain’s clothes green

19 December 2018


Changes in the fibre composition of clothing sold in the UK by retailer and brand signatories to the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan 2020 (SCAP 2020), and the purchasing of more sustainably-produced fibres (notably from the Better Cotton Initiative), are two of the main reasons for the improved footprint of UK clothing, WRAP’s (Waste and Resources Action Programme) latest clothing report concludes. 

For five years, leading retailers, brands and organisations from the re-use and recycling sectors have been measuring their progress towards targets under SCAP 2020; the voluntary agreement managed by WRAP to reduce the environmental impact of the UK’s clothing sector. WRAP’s latest progress report for SCAP 2020 measures the impact of changes made by members against the four targets. These show significant impacts in reducing the Water and Carbon footprints by SCAP 2020 members. 

Selecting more sustainably-produced fibres from enterprises like the Better Cotton Initiative is significantly reducing the volume of water used in clothing sold by SCAP 2020 members. Water demand is a huge factor in the production of clothing from crop irrigation, manufacturing fibres through to dyeing. WRAP found that the total reduction in water-use during the lifetime of garments sold by SCAP 2020 members has saved the equivalent of 42,000 baths of water per tonne of clothing sold. Enough water for a family of four to each take a bath every day for twenty-nine years. 

The other significant saving is in carbon, i.e. greenhouse gases emissions (GHGs) over the lifetime of garments sold by SCAP 2020 signatories. Here the reduction per tonne of clothes sold is estimated to be the same as the amount of GHGs produced on a car journey of 24,000 miles; akin to driving six times around Great Britain by the coastal roads.

Switching to sustainable cotton has delivered more of the water and carbon improvements than any other actions, but WRAP found a wide range of improvements demonstrated by signatories. These total 46 separate actions included implementing improved fibres, better production techniques and actions to increase re-use in 2017. While focused primarily on production and retail, WRAP is also engaged with consumers through Love Your Clothes.

Peter Maddox, director WRAP UK said: “WRAP presented its views on consumer issues to the EAC and had two main points. Firstly, if shoppers improve their awareness and understanding of what sustainable clothing and fashion is this will incentivise fashion brands to offer more choice. Secondly, Governments should explore the benefits of an extended producer responsibility regime for clothing. This could incentivise the design of longer-lasting clothes and provide support to the used textiles supply chain.”

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