As the UK buys more clothes, the SCAP 2020 continues to lead the trend for sustainable clothes

19 December 2019

The latest data from Sustainable Clothing Action Plan 2020 (SCAP 2020) commitment signatories, published today, show that improvements in design and manufacture continue to have a positive effect in making our clothes in a more sustainable fashion. However, WRAP’s Textiles Market Situation Report also shows that more items are being disposed of in the residual bin, meaning more end up in landfill or incineration. 

SCAP 2020, managed by WRAP, unites brands and retail signatories with the charity sector and recyclers to tackle the environmental costs of clothing. The latest progress report shows continued improvements compared with the 2012 baseline across carbon, water and waste reduction. But today’s results also highlight that more work is required, by many more businesses outside of SCAP 2020, to keep pace with the UK’s love of clothes as we buy more than ever.

With one year of SCAP 2020* remaining, data from participating companies show the following achievements:

  • Water – the water target has been achieved ahead of 2020, with a reduction of more than 18% against the 15% target. Cotton sourced from Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) suppliers being a large contributor. 
  • Carbon – at the current rate of progress (13.4% improvement), WRAP is confident that the 15% target for reduction in carbon will also be met. This is due to several factors including changes in the proportions of different fibres used, and increased use of sustainable forms of cotton.

Peter Maddox, Director WRAP said “I am delighted by the improvements SCAP signatories have made in carbon and water, but waste and influencing consumer behaviour remain more challenging. The next few years will be an interesting time for the sector. As well as the economic context and trends in fashion, we have EU exit and increased sector scrutiny that may all shape the future for UK fashion.

“SCAP is well placed to help British businesses stay on trend, and react to the demand for more sustainably produced clothes. I am delighted that the SCAP Footprint Calculator has become such a key resource for many of the UK’s biggest names; helping brands to focus their improvement actions and demonstrate their progress.” 

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “WRAP’s report shows some of the country’s biggest clothing brands and retailers are making real progress in making their industry more sustainable. The Sustainable Clothing Action Plan is a great way for the textiles industry to come together and do more to protect our precious natural environment, and we will continue to work with everyone involved to take forward this initiative.

“But there’s much more to do, in particular, reducing the amount of clothing that goes to landfill. That’s why this government is committed to protecting the environment and tackling climate change by cutting waste and using resources more sustainably through plans set out in our landmark Resources and Waste Strategy.”

While excellent results continue against the water and carbon targets, waste remains a harder area for signatories to influence.

  • Whole chain waste – reduction continues at a slower pace with a 1.4% improvement against baseline. Supply chain transparency is improving and several SCAP retailers have mapped their supply chains. However, more work is needed, and WRAP is working with signatories to try to improve this - but believes it is unlikely the 3.5% target will be met by December 2020.
  • Product waste at end of lifecycle – WRAP’s previous estimate of clothing disposed of in the residual waste stream (2015 data) showed a decrease of 50,000 tonnes (14%) against the 2012 baseline. The most recent data (2017) shows that this has changed, with the reduction now at 4% against the baseline. This is detailed in WRAP’s Textiles Market Situation Report which examines the flow of textiles around the economy. This found that total clothing sent to landfill or incineration rose by 10% (300,000 to 336,000 tonnes) between 2015-2017, although the total remains lower than the baseline (350,000 tonnes). 

The reasons for this rise include population growth, rising consumption levels, lack of collection infrastructure and how long we actually keep clothes. WRAP notes that clothing consumption increased in 2014, and estimates that people keep items on average for three years meaning spikes in disposal appear several years later. WRAP also found spending on clothing increased year on year, but at a rate that has slowed recently, with the UK spending around £60.5 billion on clothes per annum.

While the total for residual waste disposal has increased, when expressed on a per capita basis the amount per head of the population has actually decreased over time and is now around 8% lower, per capita, compared to 2012 levels. This currently stands at 5kg/capita in 2017 compared to 5.5kg/capita in 2012, and WRAP believes the recent rise in the total quantity going to landfill/incineration is a fluctuation in a pattern that has otherwise shown a sustained reduction. 

Donation Generation 

Shoppers do use other channels to discard of their unwanted clothing such as charity shops and collection banks, and private exchange and sales. In total, an estimated 620,000 tonnes of textiles were collected for re-use and recycling in 2018; an increase on the 600,000 tonnes collected the year before. Most was destined for the re-use market with 32% re-used in the UK (charity shops) and around 60% exported. 

But a significant proportion of clothes remain in limbo, unworn and unseen in the nation’s wardrobes and WRAP wants to encourage more people to donate their unworn items. Peter Maddox, “We need to focus on ways to keep these valuable materials in the economy when we’ve finished with them. Clothing has the fourth largest environmental impact after housing, transport and food and yet every year nearly one million tonnes of textiles are burnt or buried in the UK. This is such a waste when virgin resources are under pressure, often in countries with severe water stress. With investment and leadership, the UK could be well placed to exploit the potential for increased fibre-2-fibre** recycling of post-consumer textiles, and create new feedstock from our old clothes.”

In January 2020, WRAP will run an awareness-raising campaign to inspire more people to donate their unwanted clothes. Love Your Clothes Donation Generation campaign will highlight the variety of ways clothes can easily be donated, and the array of items that can be passed on. It will encourage people of all ages to pledge to donate, and showcase people passing on their pre-loved items across social media via #DonationGeneration

The campaign will encourage people to make use of their local charity shops and use the Love Your Clothes Recycling Locator to find their nearest donation bank. It will give details of the collection bag schemes organised by a growing number of charities such as the British Heart Foundation that collect from your door. And detail the growing number of drop-off points in high-street stores, such as the brand F&F that is trialling collection points at eighty Tesco stores. And the increasingly popular online postal schemes, such as the reGAIN app, which offer vouchers in return for donated clothing. 


Notes to Editor

  • SCAP Progress report and Textiles Market Situation Report
  • More than 90 organisations have signed up to SCAP 2020. Business signatories represented 48% of the UK clothing retail market by sales volume (2018), and 42% in terms of value of sales. Signatories include textile collectors, recyclers and charities with new signatories in 2019 including Boohoo, Mint Velvet and Urban Outfitters. 
  • SCAP’s collaborative programme ensures individual organisations work together to learn from each other and share best practice. The SCAP targets aim to achieve a 15% reductions in both the carbon and water footprints of clothing placed on the market in the UK by SCAP retailers and brands, measured per tonne of garment sales; a 3.5% reduction in waste arising over the product life-cycle across all SCAP signatories; and a 15% reduction in clothing waste going to landfill and incineration (energy from waste) in the UK. 
  • *WRAP is researching and developing a new textiles voluntary agreement, which will follow on from SCAP 2020. 
  • **In the face of growing demand from textile manufacturers, fibre-2-fibre recycling presents a potential opportunity for a new set of end-markets. This year WRAP published Fibre to fibre recycling: An economic & financial sustainability assessment examining the economic factors influencing fibre-2-fibre recycling and assessing how it may help closed loop recycling opportunities for clothing in the UK in the future. 
  • The global used textiles market fell two years running (2015 and 2016) and has not recovered to its peak (2014), but the general trend is upward. The UK plays a key part in the global market, ranking second with 12.5% of the market value after the US (15.5%). However, over the last ten years the UK’s market share has decreased from 15.5% of world market value in 2008.
  • Not all waste occurs at the end of the life of a garment. It also occurs in the processing and production phases. In 2016, this process or ‘supply chain’ waste was estimated at over 800,000 tonnes. 
  • In addition to the 336,000 tonnes of clothing sent to landfill and incineration, WRAP estimates a further 194,000 tonnes of shoes, bags, belts and other accessories are disposed of in residual waste collections. Non-clothing textiles, such as bedding and table linen, add a further 391,000 tonnes to the total every year, which stood at more than 920,000 tonnes in 2017. 
  • The Charity Retail Association estimates that there are around 11,200 charity shops in the UK, the majority of which sell clothes and textiles. In 2018, 55% of the tonnage of used textiles handled by charity shops was sold in-store, equivalent to 192,000 tonnes, up by 8% from 2016. 
  • WRAP also publishes today two other textile reports
    • Microfibres summary report – a summary of evidence and gaps in evidence on microfibres resulting from the clothing life cycle
    • SCAP footprint calculator technical report – a reference document on the calculation methods used by SCAP to measure the footprint of clothing placed on the market by a UK retailer or brand
  • WRAP is a not for profit organisation founded in 2000 which works with governments, businesses and citizens to create a world in which we source and use resources sustainably. Our impact spans the entire life cycle of the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the products we buy, from production to consumption and beyond. 
  • For further information – to request interviews: Ian Palmer, 01295 819 677 / [email protected] – – @WRAP_UK