Three academics from the University of Manchester, specialising in fashion and textiles, have expressed their criticism towards the UK Government for its failure to take decisive action in promoting sustainability within the country’s fashion and sportswear industries.

Published by the University’s policy engagement unit, Policy@Manchester, in conjunction with the 20th annual Recycle Week, Lindsay Pressdee, Dr Amy Benstead, and Dr Jo Conlon draw attention to the alarming fact that out of the one million tonnes of textiles discarded annually in the UK, a staggering 300,000 tonnes find their way into landfills or are incinerated. Furthermore, statistics suggest that as much as 10% of the world’s CO2 emissions may originate from the fashion industry.

They also highlight that the detrimental effects caused by discarded sportswear are often disregarded, particularly due to the excessive use of polyester garments, which are environmentally harmful as the material releases microfibres and takes hundreds of years to fully decompose.

Pressdee, Benstead, and Conlon emphasise the critical need to establish “sustainable practices across the entire supply chain” and commend the European Commission for proposing an “extended producer responsibility (EPR)” for textiles in the EU. This initiative “aims to provide suitable incentives to motivate producers to design products that have a reduced environmental impact at the end of their lifecycle.”

In contrast, they argue that in the UK, “addressing sustainability in the fashion industry has slipped from the political agenda.”

The academics from the University of Manchester contend that there has been a “disappointing lack of progress from the UK Government” subsequent to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee’s Fixing Fashion report in 2019.

They continue: “This report included a call for the use of EPR as well as other important recommendations such as a ban on incinerating or landfilling unsold stock that can be reused or recycled and a tax system that shifts the balance of incentives in favour of reuse, repair and recycling to support responsible companies. We urge the Government to think again and drive forward the Committee’s recommendations in order to put sustainable fashion back on the political agenda.”

Pressdee, Benstead, and Conlon also criticise Ministers for discontinuing the standalone GCSE in textiles, which offered many young people the ability to mend clothing like football kits instead of discarding them.

They write: “We are therefore calling on the Government to reintroduce textiles as part of the school curriculum to engage young people in sustainable materials and equip them with the basic skills required to repair clothes.”

The University of Manchester has launched a new initiative focused on combatting the impact of textile waste in the football industry. This involves providing workshops dedicated to transforming surplus football shirts into unique reusable tote bags, while educating local communities about the environmental consequences of textile waste and ways to prolong the lifespan of garments. The initiative seeks to offer an enjoyable, responsible method to keep kits in circulation while highlighting the issue.

The article titled ‘Game changers, a new approach to tackling sportswear garment waste’ by Lindsay Pressdee, Dr Amy Benstead, and Dr Jo Conlon can be found on the Policy@Manchester website.