Anthropy Fashion Show

Efforts to cut the environmental cost of clothing cancelled out by spiralling production.

6 November 2023

  • WRAP warns textiles industry as production levels wipe out crucial environmental improvements to fashion and textiles.
  • Average person buys 28 new items of clothes every year: 8Kg/person, 586,000t in total.

WRAP’s Textiles 2030 Annual Progress Report shows that brands signed up to the environmental voluntary agreement have reduced the carbon impact of the textiles they produce by 12% and water by 4% on a per tonne basis between 2019 and 2022. These impressive reductions were possible through actions taken to improve sustainability in design and manufacturing, and by increasing the amount of clothes reused and recycled. However, as production is spiralling upwards, WRAP warns that these positive steps are being cancelled out owing to a 13% increase in the volume of textiles produced and sold.

Twenty-six big name brands and retailers are working together through Textiles 2030 to reduce carbon emissions, improve water stewardship and make the clothing and textiles sector more circular. From ASOS to ASDA and Primark to Dunelm, all have pledged to slash the environmental impacts of their products. Today’s report shows solid progress by the businesses involved and details many activities and changes that resulted in a reduction in carbon in the second full year of the voluntary agreement. In particular, the use of recycled polyester and polyamide is rising year-on-year, helping to reduce the amount of product made of virgin materials, and there have been improvements in durability and design for recycling.

Nearly three quarters of cotton (71%) used by signatories now comes from improved sources, mainly through the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and Cotton Connect's REEL Cotton Programme.

WRAP’s insights show that designing for longer life and increasing the use of recycled fibres could achieve even greater savings. Uptake of recycled fibres alone could reduce the total carbon footprint by 12% and water by 18% for signatories.

While water features at the heart of Textiles 2030, data shows that while on a ‘per-tonne’ basis water use fell by 4% by 2022, the sizeable increase in textiles produced and sold since 2019 (up by 13%) cancelled this out completely and water use actually rose instead. Higher production rates meant water use increased by 8%, totalling 3.1 billion m³ which is enough water to provide more than half of the people in the world (53%) with drinking water every day for a year*.

Similarly, increased production has also slashed the actual carbon reduction to just 2%.

While WRAP is pleased with efforts to made by signatories, it warns that production must urgently be addressed to meet its targets and keep the UK on course for its part in delivering the Paris Accord. Catherine David, Director of Behaviour Change and Business Programmes at WRAP explains: “Textiles and fashion are responsible for up to 10% of global carbon emissions. We can see from the impact of Textiles 2030 that it’s possible to change this. But as fast as positive improvements happen, they’re cancelled out by rising production. If we hope to get anywhere near achieving the critical goals of the Paris Agreement, we must get serious about textiles and everyone has a role to play. We need sustainable design, sustainable business models, and more sustainable ways of buying and using clothes from more businesses. But production is clearly the key issue, and the onus is on businesses to make preloved part of their portfolio, so it’s accessible, easy and fun.  Through Textiles 2030, many brands and retailers are already taking action, but there is a long way to go, and many more businesses who need to join us on this journey.”

Prelove and recycle

Key to improving clothing’s relationship with the environment is developing a circular economy for fashion to transform high-street and online sales.

WRAP wants businesses to design clothes for a longer life, with good durability and recyclability and that include more recycled content. The climate action NGO wants to see more scope to develop, pilot and scale-up circular business models such as rental and repair. And for less water-intensive alternatives to conventional cotton to become more widely used, such as organic, regenerative, or recycled cotton (whilst ensuring a just transition for cotton farmers). These changes will help decouple business growth from the use of virgin resources and maintain a profitable business model.

But WRAP also points out that we all have a part to play, and that production is related to consumption. Catherine David, “We’re working with companies to improve clothes, but the other part of the equation is our role as shoppers. We buy more clothes than any other nation in Europe**. Our research shows that a quarter of most wardrobes go unworn in a year*** and nearly a quarter of us admit to wearing clothes only a few times. Moving into winter is the perfect time to look through our wardrobes – wear what we have and consider whether it’s time to let something go. You can donate, sell, or give clothes away – it all helps them move around the economy and reduce the amount produced.”

WRAP also reports changes helping to increase the collection and resale of preloved items. A greater number of take-back schemes are operating in partnership with brands and retailers in the UK, doubling the volumes of used textiles collected and sold for reuse or recycling between 2019 and 2022, now totalling 39,000 tonnes. However, again production of new far overshadows preloved, with the gap between virgin products and preloved items sold remaining significant. Second-hand makes up just 9% of textiles placed on the market. Alongside this, reuse and recycling signatories collected and handled 233,500 tonnes of used textiles, an increase of 8% since 2019.

Anthropy Fashion Show

To highlight the environmental impacts of fashion and home textiles, WRAP partnered with Anthropy 2023 and Falmouth University to call out unsustainable production and consumption in a dramatic fashion show at The Eden Project. Fashion students showcased their talents to an audience of senior leaders in the sustainability world, bringing to life the reality of the industry’s environmental footprint.

Models weaved around The Eden Project waving placards, while the show featured preloved upcycled clothes refashioned into runway ready designs, and a collection of garments produced using deadstock luxury fabrics and 3D digital design technology that minimises manufacturing waste.






Anthropy Fashion Show

Notes to Editor

If your business is not already in involved in Textiles 2030, contact WRAP here.

WRAP is a climate action NGO working around the globe to tackle the causes of the climate crisis and give the planet a sustainable future. We believe that our natural resources should not be wasted and that everything we use should be re-used and recycled. We bring together and work with governments, businesses, and individuals to ensure that the world’s natural resources are used more sustainably. Our work includes: UK Plastics Pact, Courtauld Commitment 2030, Textiles 2030 and the campaigns Love Food Hate Waste and Recycle Now. We run Food Waste Action Week and Recycle Week