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Textiles and Clothing Sectors: Environmental Sustainability

Volume 799: debated on Monday 22 July 2019


Asked by

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch to ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to improve the environmental sustainability of the textiles and clothing sectors.

My Lords, we are working with WRAP and the industry through the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan to reduce the industry’s carbon emissions, water usage and waste. Recently we launched a £4.7 million grant scheme to support innovation in plastic and textile recycling. We are also undertaking the necessary research to develop an extended producer responsibility scheme for textiles. To drive the market towards durable, repairable and recyclable products, we are developing proposals on regulatory standards and labels.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but does he share my concern about the huge environmental impact of throwaway fashion trends? In the UK, we buy more clothes per person than in any other country in Europe—five times what we bought in the 1980s—and we have created 1.3 million tonnes of waste. At the same time, textile production creates 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon every year—more than aviation and shipping combined. What are the Government doing to educate consumers to act more sustainably and wear their clothes for longer, and why do they not make textile producers pay for the environmental cost of materials that cannot be reused, repaired or recycled?

My Lords, that is precisely why it is very important that the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan, which includes 60% of those involved in the clothing industry in this country, bears fruit. There has already been an 11.9% drop in carbon per tonne and a 17.7% drop in water per tonne of clothing. We need to ensure that that is our direction of travel, and it is why I mentioned labelling. Clearly, most consumers want to do the right thing. I find fast fashion a strange concept, in so far as I am not a good example of it. I think we should use clothes for longer and repair them, and I am in the market for knowing where my shirts can be repaired.

My Lords, for many years I had the privilege of representing Yorkshire as an MEP, including the wonderful city of Bradford, which is also well represented in this Chamber. I was disappointed by the way the textile industry was reduced over time, but I am encouraged by my noble friend’s remarks, particularly as the most sustainable fibre available in the textile industry is wool, as I am sure he will agree. As we look ahead, and as the sheep industry is in need of more assistance, does he accept that this Government and future Governments should encourage the use of wool? Finally, will he commend with me the work of Bradford College, which is currently carrying out research into this very matter?

My Lords, I am a great fan of wool and of pastoral farming. When I was at the Hampton Court flower show, I saw the latest compost made, without the need for peat, from bracken and wool; that great product has many important qualities. I am delighted that Bradford is leading the way but we also need behaviour change. I was intrigued to discover that if we lower temperatures in our washing, we will reduce the CO2 emissions quite considerably. There are a lot of things we can all do to play our part.

My Lords, when I was young, my mother decided we should move to Beckenham in Kent because we would get the best healthcare, the best education and the best jumble sales. The dress I am wearing is over 50 years old; I bought it in a charity shop. It was made in Britain of high-quality material—that is what you call recycling and sustainability. Should the Government not encourage the fashion industry, both retailers and customers, to invest in high-quality British-made clothes, perhaps by considering a levy on cheap, throwaway garments made in sweatshops abroad, which end up in landfill?

My Lords, we must work to ensure that the worst of the waste hierarchy, landfill, is not where our clothes go. I have to say that it cannot be many years ago that the noble Baroness moved to Beckenham; certainly, we need to pay more attention to words such as “reuse” and “second-hand” over fast fashion; I find the ridiculous number of clothes that are used only once absurd. We need to bear down on this. It is about consumer behaviour as well as industry behaving responsibly. We want to work to extend that responsibility, for that very reason.

My Lords, we need action on textiles, yes, but we will never rescue this planet unless we repair the huge damage already done. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the urgent need for government funding for the remarkable Centre for Climate Repair, run by Sir David King? It is developing a scientific method to reverse the melting of the ice caps and the damage to ocean surfaces, to name just two of its workstreams. Without these developments, we will not succeed.

I would be honoured and intrigued to meet the noble Baroness with whoever she suggests. The reason I say this is that science and innovation will help us enormously—investment in them will help us across the piece.

My Lords, I declare an interest as my son is an educator and campaigner for sustainable practice in the fashion industry. Is the Minister aware of the initiative recently launched in France, supported and spearheaded by the President—a “fashion pact”, which is currently engaging high-end retailers and brands to change their practices to reduce the impact of this industry on the environment? In what ways does he think the incoming Government—of which I very much hope he will be a member—will be able to ensure that, once we have left the European Union, we do not lose such an initiative, which will keep us aligned with our partners and friends in Europe?

My Lords, whatever happens with our arrangements, we should have the ambition in this country to be absolutely world-leading. We were the creators of the Industrial Revolution; we now need to play our part in dealing with some of the issues which that great success produced for us and for the world. Sustainability of textiles is important. Yes, we should learn from the French example—and from all examples from around the world about how we become more sustainable as a planet, creating a more circular economy and a more successful life for future generations.