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Landfill: Textile Waste

Volume 773: debated on Monday 4 July 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to reduce the amount of textile waste sent to landfill.

My Lords, we are working with the Waste and Resources Action Programme—WRAP—and organisations from across the clothing life cycle to reduce of amount of textile waste sent to landfill and minimise environmental impacts. This includes action with designers and manufacturers to increase clothing durability, work to promote greater reuse and recycling of textiles and action to influence consumer behaviour through the Love Your Clothes campaign.

My Lords, we can all do more to make our clothes last longer and look at innovative ways to do so. To that end, all noble Lords are invited to a swishing event tomorrow in Committee Room G, 5 pm to 7 pm, hosted by the APPG on Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion. I declare an interest as a trustee of WRAP, which leads the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan—SCAP—which is focused on diverting textiles from landfill. Can my noble friend inform the House what progress SCAP is making?

My Lords, my noble friend’s initiative sounds very interesting and noble Lords, including those who are not in the Chamber, may well want to go. So far as SCAP is concerned, I am very pleased to say that only last week Primark, one of the UK’s largest clothing retailers, became the latest business to sign up to SCAP. This means that SCAP now represents 65% of clothes sold in the UK by volume. This clearly shows the enormous potential for this agreement.

My Lords, lower prices and reduced demand are lessening incentives to collect used textiles. Will the Minister say what plans the Government have to introduce extended producer responsibility, as they have done in France, to stimulate demand for sustainable markets?

My Lords, I certainly will look into what the noble Baroness has said in greater detail, but what we are seeking to do through SCAP is to ensure that there is a greater reduction in textiles going to landfill. Obviously, clothing is the most important area but there are a number of innovative initiatives with the use of textiles, for instance carpets, going into roofing, road surfaces, equestrian surfaces and engineering plastics. So there is a lot going on in both the clothing and non-clothing textile sectors.

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware of research that suggests that synthetic fleeces, when they are washed, are responsible for a significant proportion of the microplastics that end up in the sea and inside the bodies of mussels and other things such as that?

My Lords, I think I am safe in saying that wool is a very good alternative to synthetic products and also that we are very keen indeed to ensure that microbeads and marine litter are much reduced. On that subject, the United Kingdom will consider acting separately if we need to, but I am pleased to say that many of the manufacturers of UK cosmetics are no longer using microbeads and I hope that that will increase dramatically.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a number of companies belonging to the Textile Recycling Association have gone out of business recently? This is the result partly of a lack of sustainable markets for used clothing and partly of downward pressure on prices. Given that it is in all our interests to help this market thrive and to avoid clothing going into landfill, should the Government not be doing more to work with this sector to create new markets, including putting more money into investment and innovation where that would make sense?

My Lords, it is very clear that this is an innovative area where we need to do more and where as we increase the capability of recycling there will be some great and continuing successes. I understand that, with the issues particularly in east Africa and Ukraine, where there has been a reduction in the reuse of clothing and also a reduction in prices, this is a challenge that we need to work on, and it is one of the things I very much hope we can work with WRAP on.

My Lords, to follow up the question from the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, the mix of artificial and natural fibres is a real problem for recycling in the textile industry. I am old enough to remember when we had a thriving shoddy industry in Yorkshire—but that was wool, not wool mixed with polypropylene and all sorts of other things. Will the Government in this deregulatory age consider the virtue of some regulation of mixtures between artificial and natural fibres to assist in recycling?

What the noble Lord has said is very interesting. Just as anaerobic digestion is one of the issues with energy, the problem with many textiles is the non-biodegradable nature of the material. So although what the noble Lord suggested may present some complications, this is an area where we need to think much more freshly and in an innovative manner.