Wednesday 20 February 2019 8:08 am

DEBATE: Should we charge clothing brands for the cost of recycling to combat the environmental impact of fast fashion?

Should we charge clothing brands for the cost of recycling to combat the environmental impact of fast fashion?

Mary Creagh, MP and chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, says YES.

Fashion shouldn’t cost the earth. But our desire for fast fashion means that carbon emissions, water use, and chemical and plastic pollution are destroying our planet.

In the UK, we buy more clothes per person than any other country in Europe. We throw away over a million tonnes every year, with 300,000 tonnes going to landfill or incineration.

Just one per cent of clothing is recycled into new clothes. Fashion has been marking its own homework and has no idea how to get to a net-zero carbon world.

That has to change. Fashion retailers must take responsibility for the clothes they sell. A charge of just 1p on every garment could raise £35m a year to invest in recycling clothes. France took this step in 2007, which has trebled clothes collection points and created 1,400 full-time green jobs.

This charge is just part of the solution. We also need incentives for better design, tougher rules on supply chain transparency, and mandatory environmental targets for big businesses. Our kids are marching to save the planet. It’s time to fix fashion.

Philip Booth, senior academic fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, says NO.

It is easy to blame corporations for every problem under the sun. But if there are external costs arising from clothing production, the best thing to do is to tax the consumer, not companies. Perhaps VAT should be put on children’s clothing.

More generally, if we are concerned about waste, we should tax all waste and not just that occurring from fashion. Rightly or wrongly, we already do that through the landfill tax – there is no need to do more.

It might be true that there are problems higher up the supply chain with clothing manufacturers emitting pollutants. In that case, why don’t the campaigners call for better property rights over rivers and environmental resources in poor countries? This is the best pollution solution.

This campaign smacks of elitism from those who can afford expensive clothes. Past generations could only afford ill-fitting, uncomfortable and unstylish clothing. In the last 30 years, fashion has been a great pro-poor industry.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.